Archive for December, 2011


Friday, December 30th, 2011

TROPICAL TOPICS, Sunday 1 January 2012


Here’s wishing the thousands of people around the world who see this newsletter every week, a Marvellous New Year – and perhaps a trip to Sri Lanka, too.


Grown in Sri Lanka.

Mushrooms! I adore them especially when enhanced with butter and chopped garlic. There are several varieties grown commercially in Sri Lanka, including the tasteless oyster mushroom, the broad abalone kind, shitake mushrooms (although only available here dried, as the fresh ones are exported) and these button mushrooms.

They are grown at a facility known as the Dangaspitiya Industrial Park, Kohilegedera at Kurunegla in the centre of Sri Lanka by a company that boasts an Australian collaboration and is known, more romantically than its location, as Nature Harvest Mushroom Lanka (Private) Limited. There is a website at with some special Sri Lankan recipes.

These button mushrooms are sold in Colombo supermarkets in cardboard panniers containing 250g of mushrooms, for Rs300  (£ 1.71; US$ 2.60). A recipe leaflet that comes with the box gives ideas for Mushroom Curry in Coconut Milk and Mushroom Mellung. The latter involves a mix of sliced mushrooms, red onions, green chillies, garlic flakes, pepper corns, turmeric powder, ground Maldive fish, roasted mustard and cumin seeds, grated coconut, and tomato, all tossed in coconut oil. Plus salt to taste. I think I prefer mine grilled.


Hill Country Breakfast

I wanted to feel cold at this time of the year, so I spent a night in my favourite hill resort of Haputale. I wasn’t disappointed as the cold was bitter and damp, with a heavy mist closing in before dark and not lifting until late the next morning. I stayed at High Cliffe in a room above the bar on the wrong side of the railway track with a view of the town.

I’ve written about the bar before (Nos. 45 & 75) but had never eaten more than a scrumptious snack there. The cook, Kumar, produced the perfect hearty breakfast for the cold climate: curry of local beef that was the best I have ever tasted being packed with flavour, enhanced with a dash of coconut cream, and tender to boot. (Wrong analogy probably as it was as tender as a banana, not as tough as old leather.) It was served with chunky seeni sambol, a powerful sweet relish of onion and chilli, and rice flour string hoppers, kind of vermicelli nests.


Final Curtain

Beryl Harding-Marsh (nee Seton)

                        24 April 1913 – 25 December 2011

We met in Indonesia in 1997 when she was 84 and travelling alone on the Caledonian Star, a small cruise ship on which I was the Guest Lecturer. The ship called at Galle, the old southern harbour of Sri Lanka, and Beryl fell in love – with the country, its people, and the contrast in the way of life compared with her genteel retirement in Andorra.

Beryl’s third husband, Pat Harding-Marsh, a retired auctioneer whom she had married when they both lived in France, had died a few years before.

Over the years of our friendship, companionship and travels together, I discovered that, as Beryl Seton, she had been a famous musical comedy actress, singer and dancer who first appeared on the London stage when she was 12.

She worked with Noel Coward, starred (in 1947) in Finian’s Rainbow in the West End with Alfie Bass, and was a vivacious Aladdin in pantomime with Norman Evans as Widow Twankey. She is in the centre of this photograph with Norman Evans on the left.

When she was 40, she declined the role of Snow White (“I’m too old!” she told Bernard Delfont) and retired from the stage to become an artiste’s agent. She turned down Elton John (“The fat boy,” she called him) but her clients included David Hemmings and Donald Sutherland. Not only was she charming, beautifully mannered and genuine good fun, she was discreet and never spoke much about her past, preferring to enjoy life in the present.

She stayed many winters with me in Sri Lanka, finally settling here in 2008. In spite of being confined to a wheelchair from that year onwards, she continued to live life to the fullest, dressing for cocktails and dinner every night, and refusing to give up smoking. Here she is at our pool party, 16 December 2011.

On Christmas Day she was so happy receiving friends, exchanging presents, being entertained by Sasindu, the two-and-a-half year-old son of my house manager Kumara and his wife, Kanchana who was her nurse, sharing champagne with Neel, laughing with Ramesh, picnicking at our beachview bar, talking about her friend Sarah in Andorra, and planning to buy a painting by Jill, a friend of hers in Australia.

Like the real star she was, she made her exit while on a high, dying peacefully in her sleep on Christmas night, age 98. Her scores of young friends in Sri Lanka are devastated, knowing we will never have the privilege of meeting someone like her again.

Royston Ellis.