A VIEW FROM SRI LANKA, Number 59
Greetings to readers, near and far.
Going, going, gone
Horizon Cottage, my home in Sri Lanka, is 105 years old and I prefer to have old furniture in it to create that comfortable, homely atmosphere – not antiques but cherished, second hand wooden furniture, made in Sri Lanka.
Fortunately, Sri Lanka has an enterprising firm of auctioneers, Schokman & Samerawickreme (www.sandslanka.com) from whom such furniture can be bought. The firm is run by Navinda & Anuja Samerawickreme, two brothers who are the grandsons of the company’s founder, Edwin de Alwis Samerawickreme.
It was founded in 1892 and has been brought up to date through the talent and vision of the two brothers. Auctioneering is certainly in their genes as they both have superb, deep voices that can be heard above the hubbub of excited bidders, as well as indefatigable energy, and eyes like a cat’s that see the slightest sign of a bid.
I’ve been going to their auctions for about 20 years and feel proud at being accepted by the regular bidders, many of whom are dealers. The atmosphere is always one of camaraderie with losing bidders happy to commiserate with each other.
Here is Navinda, with his brother, Anuja, beside him, announcing the terms of the auction when the furniture and fittings of a 25-year old hotel, Club Palm Garden, were being sold off over four days last week. There was no buyer’s premium charged, just an entrance fee of Rs 500 (£ 2.85, $ 4.54) per person per day.
I love auctions as they are safer than playing in a casino because when I bid for something and Iose, I don’t lose my money, but the thrill is still there. And when I win, I end up with something unusual and the satisfaction of outwitting other bidders. It’s not just a matter of spending the most money but of finding something worthwhile that other people have missed, or being so quick off the mark in the bidding that others can’t keep up.
I went to the auction as I wanted to buy the hotel’s garden chess set so I could paint up the pieces and have them dotted around the lawn as garden ornaments.
Perhaps because it’s so competitive, a kind of fever grips bidders. How else to explain why usually astute people bid more than an item is worth just to secure it, or buy something they don’t really need. That’s probably why I finished up with a job lot of golfing umbrellas plus three luggage racks, a rickety kitchen table and 192 brand new unbreakable pool glasses. And the chess set? Alas, it was sold when I slipped off for a beer: did I miss a bargain at Rs 6,000 (£ 34.28, $ 54.54)?
Well, there’s another auction next week…
Possibly my favourite “watering hole” in Sri Lanka is the Beer Shop in Nuwara Eliya. It is all that remains in that popular hill station of the Ceylon Brewery that used to be in Nuwara Eliya. Lion Lager was originally brewed there but now the production takes place at the Biyagama Industrial Park close to Colombo.
Getting to Nuwara Eliya (170km from Colombo) is part of the fun because the scenery changes so dramatically, from the paddy fields of the lowlands, to the shaded rubber plantations of the mid-country to the broad panorama of rolling hills carpeted with plucked tea bushes. Nuwara Eliya is 1,868m (6,128ft) above sea level and is cold at night; old guesthouses have log fires to warm the bedrooms.
The Beer Shop is in the centre of town, an unprepossessing place with a murderous flight of concrete steps to scale to gain entrance to a long hall. The walls are decorated with split bamboo and the tables and chairs, on concrete legs, are slabs of polished rare timber. It’s always packed with denizens of Nuwara Eliya, many wearing cotton sarongs, woollen jackets and woolly hats. Smoking is rife.
The pleasure is the excellence of the draft beer, served in mugs (Rs 75), pitchers (Rs 225) or towers (R s657 – £ 3.75, US$ 5.97), one of which was my choice for the evening.
The snacks at the beer shop are listed on a blackboard and are some of the best served in the island. French Frice (Rs 90) are made with crisply fried Nuwara Eliya potatoes, while the Fried Beef (Rs 280 – £ 1.60, US $ 2.54) is tender, succulent, and also from Nuwara Eliya.
On 31 May, Chris Worthington is due to deliver the chilli cheese he has made especially for me as part of his monthly production of cheese at his farm in the hills, near Nuwara Eliya. So check next week’s newsletter for a review.
In April 2010 I registered a website, www.roystonellisebooks.com, to sell some short, self-help ebooks I had compiled. A year later, since not one ebook had sold, I decided not to renew the domain and to abandon the project. Lo and behold, I discover that someone in Oregan, USA, has paid the registration fee until April 2012 and is using the site to promote education!
I don’t know whether to be worried that someone is using my identity or flattered that someone seems to think my name is useful. Anyway, it’s not me.
For my Collected Poems and other ebooks by me under various names, click on www.wordsmanbooks.co.uk
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