Archive for March, 2013

Royston’s Report

Sunday, March 31st, 2013



TROPICAL TOPICS, Sunday 31 March 2013.


Sunny greetings from Sri Lanka where it’s gloriously hot during the day and thundery at night.


Made in Sri Lanka


When I lived in Dominica in the 1960s I was fascinated to hear on the radio, after the news bulletin, a call for “Dwarf Cavendish” bananas to be delivered to the jetty at a certain time for shipment, by the Geest boat, to England. It seemed a lifeline to Britain (Dominica was then an “Associated State” of the UK, a kind of semi-colony). The Geest boats, as well as carrying bananas, took a few passengers too on the voyage to and from the UK.



Cavendish bananas from Sri Lanka

Cavendish bananas from Sri Lanka

Those memories came rushing back when, on my supermarket expedition, I saw – and bought – Dole Cavendish Bananas “Made of Sunshine” – produce of Sri Lanka. The taste is delicious, sweet without the dryness of the many other varieties of banana grown here. This seems to be a new venture in Sri Lanka for Dole as the website is still under construction.

Meanwhile I am enjoying my “Sixers Pack (as it’s called) of Cavendish bananas, which cost Rs136.50 [£ .71p;  $ 1.09] a kilo.


Map Mystery Part 2

My mention of confusion in last week’s newsletter about whether Sri Lanka was ever known as Taprobane brought an immediate response from Richard Boyle whose erudite articles and books on Sri Lankan history and customs are packed with information.

He sent me a clipping of an article discussing the matter (, from which he concludes that Sri Lanka was, indeed, named Taprobane. Well, perhaps it was for a time, but from what the article says, that was because two different original sources identified two separate islands (Sumatra and Sri Lanka) as Taprobane.

“Explaining the confusion in application of the name Taprobane to two places, Damian Cole [Assistant Curator of the Australian National Library Map Gallery] explained … ‘As the Europeans started to explore… they came across Sri Lanka, and thought well this must be Taprobane. But at the same time another route to the Indies was further south across the Indian Ocean and explorers came across Sumatra in Indonesia [and called that Taprobane]. So a debate began whether Taprobane was Sri Lanka or Sumatra, as both fitted the description of an exotic island with golden spices and elephants.’”

I like the idea that Sri Lanka was only mistakenly called Taprobane because that then indicates the enthusiastic arguments of the Taprobane supporters (quoted in the article) may be specious. Certainly by the16th century, mapmakers had decided Sri Lanka was called Zaylon (or a version of that word) and Taprobane was Sumatra.

This comes from the delightful 1519 Atlas Miller.


Detail of Atlas Miller, 1519

Detail of Atlas Miller, 1519


And this is a detail from a Munster map, dated 1550, showing both islands.

Detail of  map dated  1550 by Munster

Detail of map dated 1550 by Munster

Fine dining?

In Colombo at lunchtime last week, I decided to try out one of the many restaurants opening up in the city as it gradually undergoes revitalisation. Mistake really; I ended up walking out of two of them and being told I must hurry to order in the third as the kitchen was closing.

The first one proclaims it is Russian. The ground floor was an empty and gloomy room with rather startled staff when we walked in at 1.30pm for lunch. The staff member who recovered the quickest suggested we go upstairs to eat. Décor there was sheer opulence; we could have walked into a tsarina’s karaoke boudoir with its huge screen and an ear-shattering belt of opera. We fled.

Our next attempt was at a well established Swiss restaurant that has added a Brasserie  Lunch experience to its purvey of gourmet cuisine. Unfortunately, there appeared to be no staff on duty. Neel wandered into the depths of the bungalow shouting ‘ Anyone at home?’ but no one came. When he pushed open a glass door we were met by an icy blast from the air-conditioning and an equally icy stare from a steward serving two tables. We left.

Mixed amuse bouches

Mixed amuse bouts


We managed to get to Spoons, the Colombo Hilton’s fine dining restaurant just before the kitchen closed at 2.30pm. We had the executive lunch with a platter of mixed amuse-bouches (including lobster mousse) as a starter followed by our choice of mains (fish, chicken or lamb). Double braised Australian lamb in confit cabbage sautéed spinach feta crumble pot jus (shown here) was rich in flavour and very satisfying. We concluded with a platter of mixed desserts.

Lamb confit in cabbage

Lamb confit in cabbage

This wonderful lunch cost Rs1,600  [£ 8.42; $ 12.80], plus plus. Unfortunately the high standard of the food was let down by lazy service. I’ve noticed that sometimes where places justly pride themselves on their food quality, the stewarding staff lack (or take no notice of) necessary professional training that matches the food standard.



Last Saturday, I popped into the local doctor’s surgery to ask advice on how to deal with a swelling on my elbow that had been troubling me for a couple of weeks. He gave me a several pills which I took in the right order but which resulted, the next morning, in a much larger swelling.


As soon as he saw it, the good doctor decided to operate. I was laid down on a Rexine-covered wooden bed in the doctor’s surgery and rolled on my side to face the wall as the doctor operated. Kumara held my hand down, Neel and the nurse swotted flies and the doctor, aided by someone I took to be a tuk tuk driver but who seemed to know his job, cut and scraped and sewed me back together with 20 stitches.

Why there are typos

Why there are typos


I loved the informality of it all with people crowding the surgery’s open doorway to watch. Made me feel like family! So if there are any typos this weak, you know why…


Sunny regards