Archive for December, 2014


Saturday, December 20th, 2014



Sunday, 21 December 2014.

Greetings at Christmas to readers around the world for a jolly good time of well-deserved indulgence.

Tropical Christmas


It's Christmas in The Living Room. (not mine but the tavern in Galle Fort)

It’s Christmas in The Living Room. (not mine but the tavern in Galle Fort)

Christmas in Sri Lanka is sublimely tropical and it’s not an extreme sport to swim on Christmas Day, as I once did in my crazy youth in Brighton. I still shiver when I think of it. Then my favourite tipple was “Rum and Black” – rum and Ribena (blackcurrant). How gloriously foolish we were in the 1960s.

Sri Lanka being a multi-faith country, Sri Lankans tend to enjoy the feast days of all religions so there will be parties on Christmas Eve and beach picnics on Christmas Day, even if no one actually goes to church. Recognising this, Christmas Day is an official holiday here but January 1, cruelly, isn’t.

In case I over indulge (me?) there will be no newsletter on Sunday 28 December. Normal service will be resumed next year on Sunday 4 January.



On Tuesday, 27 December 2014, the Sri Lanka Government Railways (SLR) celebrates its sesquicentennial, marking the day 150 years ago when the first train, a steam locomotive  (a 4-4-0 type two-wheel coupled engine with tender made by R Stephenson & Co) steamed into Ambepussa, a station 34 miles from Colombo on the Main Line, then being laid to the former medieval capital of Kandy.

(Photo: Two cigarette cards from the 1930s; the top one shows Loco 151, Class 2-6-4) on a copy of my 1994 book about travelling around Sri Lanka by train.)

The railway didn’t reach Kandy until 1867, which was just 52 years after the former impregnable (because of the mountains that surrounded it) kingdom fell to the British. It was a remarkable achievement by British engineers and Ceylonese workers (helped by imported Indian labour) given the rivers and swamps that had to be crossed, rocks to be blasted away and hills to be tunnelled by hand. Three thousand men worked on building the line, regardless of malaria, falling rocks, flying snakes, and wild animals.

A royal guest, actually from Belgium where he became King Leopold II in 1865, travelled on that first train. Not to be outdone, the Prince of Wales, later to become King Edward VII of Britain, travelled all the way to Kandy by steam train in 1875.

Steam engine takes on water at Hatton

Steam engine takes on water at Hatton

(The photo above [taken in 1990; I was there] is of 4-6-0 class B2b 213 tender tank steam locomotive built by Vulcan Foundry, Newton Le Willows, England in 1922. It was often used as a banking locomotive to give extra power for uphill journeys.)

The journey from steam to diesel and to the recently proposed monorail system for Colombo has been difficult. Not only has steam been phased out but now even the robust diesel locomotives of the past 60 years are being replaced by sleek Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs) without a separate coupled locomotive, imported from China and India. They may have air-conditioned first class, but the essential romance of breezy rail travel standing by an open carriage door seems to be disappearing.


Gluten free vodka.

Yes, it does exist, but now I’ve discovered the best. An old British friend who’s long been in the liquor business in Sri Lanka, presented me with a bottle as he read here I am more comfortable with a gluten free diet – and that includes drinks too.

Tito's defiantly gluten free vodka

Tito’s defiantly gluten free vodka

This vodka is called Tito’s Hand Made Vodka and it is an American original craft vodka produced in Texas by a former geologist, who’s surname is actually Beveridge.  He micro distils it in an old fashioned pot still, in the manner of making single malt whisky. It’s taking the vodka world by storm and beating the socks of the best premium brand name vodkas. Check it for yourself on 

In Colombo,Tito’s is available from Fine Spirits at 353 Union Place at Rs6,075 [£ 30.37; $ 46.73] a 750ml bottle, that’s cheaper than most premium vodkas.

I prefer to judge the quality of a drink, or a meal, the next morning when the consequences kick in. This vodka was deceptive, no nose, intense on the palate, and silkily beguiling. I tried it neat and frozen, then shaken with a couple of dashes of Angostora Bitters but it really impressed me as a Martini with a hint of vermouth and drip of olive brine.

That night I had the weirdest, even psychedelic, dreams but the next morning had a head clear enough so I could get up and write this note at 5am. Tito’s it is!


Dish of the Week

A Thai cracker?

A Thai cracker?

This isn’t a fried Christmas cracker but something I tried during what was supposed to be a quick lunch at an ‘authentic’ Thai restaurant in Colombo. I’m not naming the place, to save the restaurant’s blushes since the service was neither Thai in grace nor alacrity.

I suppose I was wrong in expecting to be able to order, receive and eat lunch within, say, 45 minutes. I should have guessed that, since there was no set menu and the a la carte menu contained over 100 items, everything would need to be especially prepared so it would have been wiser to stick to regular Thai dishes, like Tom Yam, curry and fried rice.

But I fancied ‘Deep fried minced chicken and shrimp wrapped in bean curd’ as a starter. I saw other diners arrive, order, get served, eat, pay and leave while I was still awaiting my whim. When eventually he delivered it the steward explained the long delay was because of the time it took to make. Ah, so it didn’t come from the freezer then?

There were eight identical pieces and it was obvious a lot of skill had been involved in twirling them so intricately. Alas, by the time they arrived, I was too hungry to appreciate their delicate crispness and the comforting taste of muddled chicken and shrimp.


Beat poems for Christmas

A Thai cracker?

A Thai cracker?

This book is small enough to slip into a Christmas stocking or a hip pocket. If there’s no Kicks Book slot machine near you, go online to any of the amazons to order Gone Man Squared for those who matter to you.

Beat Expounded

Beat Expounded


Beat regards