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ROYSTON REPORTS, Number 270
Sunday 30 August 2015.
Greetings to readers around the world to this week’s glimpse of life in Sri Lanka, including a look at a curious collectable.
There was a four-day motor show held in Colombo last week. I went there with web wizard, Andrew, out of curiosity and was delighted to discover a new model three-wheeler (“tuk tuk”) vehicle on display. This is assembled in Sri Lanka with parts imported from India. When we’ve bought new tuk-tuks before, we have had to upgrade the upholstery to make the seats more comfortable. This Sri Lankan version comes with plush driver and passenger seats, a sturdy canopy and even an inbuilt sound system. It costs Rs475,000 [£ 2,275; US$ 3,527]. Since we need a new tuk tuk at home, this might be our eventual choice…
The motor show pavilions were excessively noisy, not only with music blasting out but also with the revving and roaring of engines. Also, as though to make spectators feel at ease in the tranquil park outside, there was an exhibition of daredevil motorbike stunts to remind everyone of Colombo’s traffic chaos.
Refurbishment of the old Union Bar & Grill at the Hilton Colombo Residences has resulted in the opening of the latest buffet dining venue, called Flow. Whether it’s named after “go with the flow” I don’t know. In spite of finding the name rather unappetising, I was lured there by the press release: “a state-of-the-art multi cuisine all day dining restaurant complete with five open kitchens dishing up a delectable spread of Asian and Western cuisines…”
Perhaps I misunderstood, as Flow doesn’t do all day buffets at all, but breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets at the usual times. There are some novel serving pans with holders for lids as “state-of-the-art.” The open kitchens are five separate counters behind which chefs wait to warm up whatever you choose from the display. There were Indian, Japanese, Oriental, Sri Lankan and Western (roast lamb) dishes on the day I lunched there.
The dessert counter (unfortunately placed near the flow of people by the busy entrance) was formidable with a chef ready to make crêpes. However, his effort in response to my request for Crêpe Suzette was disappointing (no liqueur-infused fruity sauce but strawberry syrup squeezed from a dispenser). The buffet cost was Rs2,650 [£ 12.70; US$ 19.68 ] (including tax and service charge) per person. It’s ok for agile gourmands but not for a lunch when you want to talk business, instead of having to leap up and down between courses. And the service not only flowed, it ebbed too.
Thank you to the many readers around the world who responded to my request for identification of the two chickens I have inadvertently acquired. The consensus seems to be that the white one, at least, is a silkie bantam although perhaps not pure bred while the other is a cross breed.
One correspondent reports that “This is a Chinese form of chicken … they have “pompoms” of fur on their feet. They are very entertaining – the ‘Barbara Windsors’ of the chicken world”
Other correspondents comment: “Silkies are usually very tame and quite characters all the same!” and “Said to originate in China, named for the silk-like texture of the feathers. They are even less bright than regular chickens, but they have nicer natures and they don’t smell like most hens. Make great pets.” Also: “The fluff around the ankles being distinctive and the Silky being the smaller of the Bantam family.”
However, another correspondent suggests my hens might be Sultans, a breed originating in Turkey. Since a silkie hen has black flesh, much favoured as a gourmet treat in China, perhaps that’s how I shall eventually identify the breed…
Air sickness bags
It’s amazing what people collect. Surely one of the oddest items is air sickness bags, presumably unused. How do I know that people collect them?
Because recently there were eight offered for auction on ebay and the bidding rose progressively from 99p (my bid) to £74.72, that’s over £9 [Rs1,889; $ 13.95] a bag.
I’ve discovered too that there’s a website (www.airsicknessbags.com) for “barf bags” (as they’re called colloquially) which lists 2,687 bags for potential collectors to reach for, and 260 enthusiastic collectors (barf baggers?) around the world.
Why did I bid? Because one of the bags came from Air Ceylon and I am interested in items connected with the history of aviation in Sri Lanka. Air Ceylon began flying from Ratmalana Airport, now a domestic airport north of Colombo, in 1947, and from 1967 to 1978 operated from Bandaranaike International Airport. Then it ceased operations to re-emerge as Air Lanka which, in turn, became Sri Lankan.
I guess an air sickness bag over 40 years old must be pretty rare, but I think I’ll stick to cheaper souvenirs of Sri Lanka.
(From 50 years ago. Issued by British grocers Seymour Mead & Co Ltd)
No. 23: PACKETING TEA
“In a modern tea warehouse the leaf is not touched by hand. It is blended in bulk in a large rotating drum. The blend is then tipped into an automatic weighing and packing machine where cams and levers clutch and shape pieces of paper into packets. The packets pass under nozzles through which the tea pours into them, then continue on to machinery which seals and labels. Finally, off they go on a conveyor belt to be parceled up and sent to grocers’ shops all over the country.”
This week’s good read
Read about life when Sir Cliff Richard and yours truly were young – and on the road together. Available from http://www.tomahawkpress.com or all the amazons as a really readable paperback. (ISBN 9780956683472).
If you want to share this weekly newsletter (and the photos) with others, the best way is to tell them to check the link: www.roystonellis.com/blog. I also write about Sri Lanka on: http://www.srilankatailormade.com/blog/
and on: http://www.thesrilankatravelblog.com
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.
ROYSTON REPORTS, Number 293
TROPICAL TOPICS, Sunday 14 February, 2016.
Welcome lovers and others to this St Valentine’s Day edition of my newsletter, which is also the last one.
Dish of the Week
Beef in Sri Lanka has the unfortunate reputation of being tough and lacking flavour. It isn’t: it’s the lack of traditional knowledge of young chefs (and village butchers) that often render beef hard to swallow. The best local beef (from the hill country) I have ever eaten was at a bungalow in Haputale where the 80 year-old chef transformed the meat into a dish for gourmets. He wouldn’t divulge his secret but it had something to do with long marination in papaya juice.
We’ve tried cooking beef at home without success and I am wary of having it in restaurants in Sri Lanka. So I was thrilled to discover Beef Tataki in an unexpected source, the Japanese seafood specialist restaurant: The Tuna & The Crab in Galle Fort. True, it was imported Black Angus but this starter was priced at only Rs800 [£ 3.84; $ 5.55] (when it can cost as much as $35 in similar restaurants in Maldives or Singapore.
My old friend, Yasmin Cader, whom I first met more than 25 years ago when she was handling public relations for the Ceylon Intercontinental Hotel (now the voluptuous Kingsbury), has sent me information about the eagerly-awaited annual Scrabble Contest supporting those with Alzheimer’s Disease.
This is being held on Saturday 27 February from 9.30am to 4pm at the Lanka Alzheimer’s Foundation premises, 110 Ketawalamulla Lane, Colombo. Sponsors are sought at Rs2,500 a participant; telephone 011 266 7080 for information.
Thank you to everyone who sent greetings on my recent birthday, including an old friend who wrote: “Teenagers are 75 this year.”
Regular readers will know a little bit about my life before I settled in 1980 in Sri Lanka. Here are some more items from that distant place called Nostalgia.
A search of cyber space by a friend has revealed something I had totally forgotten about, an issue of the much-missed PUNCH magazine, published in England in 1960, in which I have the lead article about teenagers. (I was 19 at the time!)
My visit to Liverpool in 1960 when I encountered (and performed beat poetry in the Jacaranda cellar with) four lads – John, Paul, George and Stuart – who eventually became the Beatles, is commemorated in a plaque in Ye Cracke Pub in Liverpool. I’ve never seen it.
Bill Harry has written: “This plaque hanging in Ye Cracke pub in Liverpool commemorates the visit to Liverpool by Royston Ellis in June 1960 to perform his poetry, when he was backed at the Jacaranda by the then Beetles. It mentions the influence Royston had on Bill Harry, John Lennon, Stuart Sutcliffe and Rod Murray – ‘the Dissenters,’ John Lennon’s other band (which never played a note).”
From 1966 to 1979 (when I was blown away to Sri Lanka by Hurricane David), I lived in Dominica, considered “the nature island of the Caribbean.” I had a log cabin on a hillside overlooking the beach village of Mero. I set up, and for a time was President of, the Dominica Cricket Association (DCA). We founded the Village Cricket Tournament, enabling village teams to compete with each other for a championship cup. This gave a lot of village cricketers a chance to reveal their talents to selectors for the Dominica team.
This photograph was sent – by coincidence – to me last week by Pete Brand, the creator in Dominica of the Island House Hotel (also blown away by David). It shows a dapper young Royston with Dominica’s gentleman governor, Sir Louis Cools-Lartigue, handing a cheque to Cecil Bramble, the DCA’s Treasurer/Secretary and The Hon Arnold Active, the DCA’s Vice President.
Here’s to cyber exile
I received this personalised New Year card from an acquaintance and reader of this newsletter, which I’m reproducing here as a kind of farewell photo to all the readers who have been following these newsletters for the past six years.
“This photo, for me, summons the essence of Royston. Joie de vivre, carpe diem, celebrating life and making the most of every moment. Apologies for pigeon-holing you thus!”
All the amazons have either paperback or kindle copies of these books available on line. Copies of the more than 60 books I’ve written (including the Bondmaster series that I wrote as Richard Tresillian) occasionally pop up on ebay.
As previously announced this is the last of my weekly newsletters and many readers have written kindly expressing dismay and say the newsletters will be missed. I, too, am going to miss this newsletter – but not the aggravation of the technical side which, alas, I can no longer handle.
Of course I’m not actually retiring (writers never do, they just lose the plot) but exiling myself from cyberspace so I can concentrate on writing fiction and poetry (back to my roots) – and building a swimming pool and a couple of contemporary cottages for holiday rental in the garden of Horizon. (Let me know if you’d like to stay…)
If you’re missing me next Sunday (or at any time) go to: http://www.tftw.org.uk and click on “enter the magazine” then scroll down to page number 18 to find the transcript of a live interview with me recorded by Peter Stockton for Tales from the Woods magazine when I visited England last May.
I have informed the company that circulates (or doesn’t) this newsletter each week, that there will be no more newsletter emails to you from me in future. So if you do receive anything purporting to be from email@example.com, DO NOT OPEN IT. Instead, TRASH IT immediately. (So if you write to me at this address, I’ll make sure that I reply from a different one.)
Thanks for being with me all these years; bon voyage on life’s thrilling journey, and beat regards.
Welcome to the website where you can find out all you want to know (and a lot you probably don’t want to know) about Royston Ellis, author, travel writer and erstwhile beat poet.In September 2016, Royston Ellis was appointed for three years as Editor of DESTINATION MALDIVES, the magazine published annually by Feel Investments for the Maldives Marketing & Public Relations Corporation.
About Royston Ellis
Royston Ellis was born on 10 February 1941 in Pinner, England, and educated at state schools until he left age 16, determined to be a writer. Two years later, his first book, Jiving to Gyp, a sequence of poems, was published and he performed his poetry on stage and TV to backing by Cliff Richard’s original group, The Shadows; by Jimmy Page, later of Led Zepplin; and by John, Paul, George & Stuart who become famous as the Beatles, a spelling Royston suggested to them, instead of Beetles.
In 1960 he caused a nationwide controversy by his remarks on teenage lifestyle in the TV programme Living For Kicks. In 1961 his book The Big Beat Scene was first published. For his literary achievements Royston was awarded the title Duke Gypino y Tintinabulation de Redonda by the king of that Caribbean island.
At 20 Royston left England for a life of travel that took him to Moscow, where he read his poetry on stage with the iconic Russian poet Yevtushenko, and then to the Canary Islands where he acted briefly as an Arab with Cliff Richard in the movie Wonderful Life, and wrote three novels.
From 1966 to 1980 he lived in Dominica and wrote the bestselling Bondmaster series of historical novels as Richard Tresillian; as well as becoming President of the Dominica Cricket Association, a member of MCC and of the Windward Islands Cricket Board of Control.
In 1980 he settled permanently in Sri Lanka where he now lives in a colonial cottage overlooking the Indian Ocean, and in 2003 was appointed as the Warden (a kind of Honorary Consul) of southern Sri Lanka for the British High Commission. The author of over 60 published books (guides, novels, biographies and volumes of poetry) he also writes travel features for inflight, international and Sri Lankan magazines.