Archive for March, 2012


Saturday, March 31st, 2012

TROPICAL TOPICS, Sunday 1 April 2012.


Sunny greetings from Sri Lanka with a star-studded newsletter this week.


Alms Giving

We had an alms giving at home on Monday to commemorate three months since the passing of a dear friend, and long term resident of Sri Lanka, Beryl Harding Marsh (see Newsletter 90). Neel invited 10 monks to the cottage and, after they had chanted and delivered some short sermons, they were given alms in the form of a breakfast of rice, string hoppers, fish, chicken and prawn curries, served by villagers.


Discover Sri Lanka

It was standing room only when I joined HE Dr Chris Nonis, the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to Great Britain, in a presentation at the Royal Geographical Society in London on Wednesday 21 March.

I had flown over by Qatar Airways from Colombo the day before and, although everybody was saying how warm it was for March, I found the wind bitterly cold.

I was well wrapped up (as can be seen here in this photograph by my guide book publisher, Hilary Bradt, of myself and Madeleine Bell, the Programmes Manager of the RGS outside the building), but nevertheless succumbed to a filthy cold the next morning and returned to Sri Lanka in a tempest of sneezes.

The presentation began with a thought-provoking address by Dr Nonis on the real situation in Sri Lanka, as opposed to the one that anti-Sri Lankan activists are trying to portray. I followed in lighter vein urging tourists and travellers to visit Sri Lanka soon, not just to see for themselves but also “before the rest of the world moves in – and changes Sri Lanka so it becomes like the rest of the world.”

The event was chaired by Dr Rita Gardner, Director of the Royal Geographical Society, who controlled the questioning with aplomb. I was fortunate that Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, the Sri Lanka wildlife expert, was in the audience, as he was able to answer some probing questions about whale watching and boating.

The next morning, Gehan sent me this link, which everyone interested in Sri Lankan wildlife will find fascinating.


Bar Dynamics

I stayed at the elegantly colonial Gore Hotel, Kensington, where I was intrigued to discover a term I hadn’t heard before, called “Dynamic Pricing.”  I was given a list of the rack rate prices for each of its 50 bedrooms, and told that the rates were the maximum; the actual price of a room would depend on the day’s dynamics and other conditions such as a corporate discount, and would drop according to demand.

My attic “Queen Room” was listed at £240 (that’s SLRs49,200 at today’s high rate of SLRs205 to 1GBP) with continental breakfast. I lunched in the hotel’s restaurant on sea bream with prawn and chilli omelette and cucumber pickle (£ 16.95; Rs 3,474, plus 12.5% service charge). I’ve had better fish in Sri Lanka although presenting it on a mattress of prawn and chilli omelette instead of on a bed of mashed potato, was a new idea for me. However, I am always puzzled when confronted by fish served upside down, ie: with the skin side uppermost, as shown here.

An unexpected pleasure of The Gore is its genuine Edwardian bar where skilled barmen specialise in enticing cocktails ingeniously infused with spices and flavour, not just 50ml of shaken spirits. My Pisco Sour was a revelation, mellowing the harshness of the pisco with a creamy, alluring winsomeness.


Dutch Auction

Actually, this was an auction held at the Dutch House above Galle in aid of cricketer Kumar Sangakkara’s charity: Bikes For Life. It wasn’t a Dutch auction in the sense of the price being reduced until a buyer is found, but a vigorous session of bidding after a jolly dinner in the beautiful setting of the candle-lit garden of this chic unique antique boutique hotel.

The set three-course dinner (not a dreaded buffet) cost just Rs2,500 (£ 12.20; US$ 20) which, as one English guest who was visiting for the Sri Lanka v England 1st Test match said, was the cheapest meal he has had on his holiday here. Charity dinners in England, he said, are usually priced higher then normal to raise more money.

Guests were treated to complimentary vodka cocktails lavishly poured from glass jugs as they strolled around the lawn trying to find their tables. That’s how Neel met Sri Lanka’s former captain Kumar Sangakarra.

The cricketer’s aim is to raise funds to buy bikes (at about US$100 each) for deprived children living in the rural areas of the north. He was helped in this at the dinner by the ebullient entrepreneur and hotelier, Geoffrey Dobbs and his staff, led by the tireless Henri (alas soon to leave after 10 years at the Sun and Dutch Houses). The service (aided by some glamorous volunteers) and the organisation were superb, while the dinner of prawns with cucumber shooter followed by chunky golden chicken curry was delicious.

The mariner’s chart of Galle Harbour based on a survey by Sea Lark in 1907 that I donated, was the third lot. It sold for Rs55,000 (£ 268; $ 440). The evening garnered SLRs3.8 million which, with a further donation from Geoffrey Dobbs of Rs200,000, is enough for 400 bikes.

Congrats to all concerned. It was a wonderful evening in great company although, oddly enough, only at the end did we realise we were sitting at the same table as the former captain of England, Michael Vaughan.



While in London I was able to meet my oldest friend, Jimmy Page, whom I have known since we appeared on stage together (he on guitar, me spouting poetry) in 1959. Jimmy has written the introduction to my eBook collection of poems: BEAT.

It’s available from with payment of £ 2.99 by credit card via the secure site of Paypal.

Beat regards

Royston Ellis