Writings > By Carey > In Search of Serendipity

iIn Search of Serendipity

In Search of Serendipity will be published by Fand Music Press.

See also Serendipity Articles, condensed extracts published in Composer magazine.

In Search of Serendipity

Between late 1984 and 1985 Carey took what he called a ‘sabbatical sojourn’ to Sri Lanka and India, during which he kept meticulous notes in a travel journal. This opus became known as In Search of Serendipity, and is currently in preparation for publication by Fand Music Press.

As a taster, the first five days’ journal entries are reproduced below (minus sketched illustrations), and should provide an insight into the scope of the journey. Additionally, Carey condensed parts of his journal into two articles that appeared in issues 87 and 88 of Composer magazine in 1986. Extracts from these more formally presented Serendipity Articles are also available on this site.

The First Five Days


Departed London at 1.45 pm Boeing 747 (Jumbo Jet – Air Lanka’s one and only) – delayed an hour because of fog. Lunch served at 2.00 pm.

Arrived Zurich at 3.00. Like Gatwick cold and grey. Temp 4°C (39°F). We shall be flying at 37,000 feet.

Over Yugoslavia at 5.35 pm. Dinner served at 6.00 pm. Like lunch, rather bland and pre-packed.

Film shown at 6.45 pm. (“Footloose”.) Listened to “One Hour of Classical Music” via the left-hand arm-rest … courtesy of Air Lanka. This started with Gershwin’s “Cuban Overture”. They must have known I was on board …

Arrived Dubai (on the Gulf) at 10.00 pm (21°C/66°F) – it’s warming up. A crew change allowed us off the plane for about ½ an hour or so. Airport ‘bus took us to the terminal building. My calliper “donged” the security apparatus, so I was whisked off to a small room to be searched by an (armed) soldier – very dour and unsmiling. The horror of being shown my calliper in all its leather-worked glory eased the tension. My passport was “screw-tinised”. Guard asked why there was no “health stamp” in my passport. Presumably he meant my polio etc. should be shown. I couldn’t explain, but was released and allowed to rejoin ’plane party. A tense five minutes or so, although the guard was very polite. (With an automatic weapon you can, of course, be just as you wish …)

Departed Dubai at 11.20 pm. Saw glorious sunrise at 1.15 – all oranges and lemon yellows and deep purples. Pity I had an aisle seat – the innermost of the three – and not a window seat; unable to take photographs.

Caught glimpses of the Laccadives on approach to Colombo. Arrived at Colombo at 3.20, after “breakfast” at 2.15 am (shades of all-night post-office sorting as a student, with several “breakfasts” at 2 hourly intervals throughout the night). First impressions of Colombo: heat (about 85°) and palm trees … thousands of them.

Collected suitcase from carousel and changed £50’s worth of travellers’ cheques for some 1,400 Sri Lankan rupees – very exotic and colourful paper money, with flora and fauna prominent. Colombo Airport Post Office a real delight – three chaps behind a counter in a corner of the main reception area: one for stamps, one for telegrams and one for the (only) phone. His efforts to contact The British Council failed – no answer each time. Discovered later today that many Colombo ’phone numbers are being changed after installation of new equipment at the exchange. The British Council number has now acquired an extra number at the front – should be: 581171/4.

Decided to indulge in the luxury of a taxi to Colombo (about 21 miles from the airport) after such a long, tedious and tiring flight without any sleep (from 9.00 am Wednesday, December 12 to about 3.45 am Thursday, December 13). The whole contents of the Jumbo Jet – over 200 people – seemed to be milling around the airport entrances with millions of suitcases, etc., all waiting for minibuses, taxis, etc. Across the “road” was (is) a crush barrier about 100 yards (or more) long. The other side of it an obviously “scab” taxi-driver was signalling to me to join him on the other side. I did so, after some effort and quite a few bruised shins from my airport luggage trolley (theirs, not mine). There then followed an amazing dash to the city centre in a large and battered old car – whose cigar lighter was still functioning.

I had decided to go direct to Wayfarers Ltd in Boyd Place, as they arrange cheaper accommodation and “home-stays”. The road to Colombo from the airport is fairly wide, but without pavements; it seems to be lined on both sides, all the way, with an odd mixture of bungalows, commercial concerns, shops, old cinemas, wayside vendors, kiosks, etc. all random and higgledy-piggledy. The road is full of all kinds of traffic: cars, buses, lorries, bicycles, bullock-carts, stray bullocks, dogs, chickens, etc. Anything capable of speed does so. My taxi-driver drove like one demented, overtaking anything and everything in front of him, both on the inside and the outside, hooting continuously. When we arrived in Colombo, my head was splitting with the heat and noise, and my ears buzzing. I now know just why so many dogs in Colombo are three-legged … and I must have seen a million palm trees already, stretching back from the road to Colombo, on both sides, seemingly for miles in some places.

Apart from the nervous exhilaration of this taxi ride, my overall first impression of the approach to Colombo by road is one of sadness. Everything – buildings, road signs, etc. – gives the impression of being run down, faded, passé, dilapidated; as though no-one has bothered to keep up appearances and standards since the British left. We passed two 1930s Odeon-type cinemas, both with flaked paintwork, peeling stucco, grimy windows; sad reminders of a possibly better colonial past. Signs everywhere in English, especially on advertisement hoardings (“Make your dream home a reality”). Many well-known brand names.

The taxi-driver had some difficulty in finding Wayfarers Ltd of 6 Boyd Place – the street name no doubt long gone. It turned out to be a lovely little colonial house with a nice garden – Wayfarers Ltd is “run from home” by a friendly and charming young couple named JANAKI and JAYANTHA WANIGATUNGA. Both speak excellent English. He did some ringing round and finally fixed me up with a B & B in the home of a doctor (Dr GUNEWARDENE). Mrs Wanigatunga took me there in her car – driven by an employee. 3 Carlwil Place is very well situated, being just off Galle Road, the road that runs close to and parallel with the coast. The British High Commission and the Central Bank of Ceylon (where – I hope – my own bank is arranging an open credit facility) are close by, as is the Hotel Renuka and the foreign telephone exchange.

3 Carlwil Place is a large, rambling old colonial house in a small garden. I have a large room which is at one end, on the ground floor. In it are twin beds, a very large standing wardrobe, a large and ornate Victorian dressing table with 7 drawers and large mirror, a small table and two dining-room chairs (with woven seats) and the largest cupboard I have ever seen: about 6' wide and only about 6" – 9" deep BUT about 10' – 12' high. It’s got many shelves and all are crammed with bric-a-brac, including a goldfish bowl. One door of the room leads to a large pillared patio, with chairs and (large) potted plants; the other door leads into the house. Next to my room is the bathroom and next to that, the toilet. Both these are very high-ceilinged and narrow, with stone-composition floors and walls, the latter edged with marble. They remind me of the facilities of, say, a London club like the Reform Club, or a London hotel.

My room has two large windows, both heavily barred and also covered with 2" squared metal mesh. Good protection against burglary for such a ground-floor and exposed room. I have a key to the door leading to the patio. The temperature in my room remains a constant 83°F, day and night, and it’s a delight to sleep in the altogether under just a cotton sheet, and to dry after a bath virtually just walking from the bathroom to my own room – a few paces. My room has a large 3-bladed fan on the ceiling, and the “draught of air” is very refreshing. The fan has four settings, and is on “1”. I fear to try out the higher settings, as it’s going so fast now that it might leave its bearings and tear about the room, slicing everything in two, including me. It feels frightfully Somerset Maugham-ish to be writing this under this fan, with the incessant cawing of the crows and the sound of Sinhalese voices in the background. (“Don’t forget we’re dining with the High Commissioner this evening, darling.”)

The bathroom must originally have been just a shower-room, as there is a shower faucet jutting out of the wall. When I removed the bath-plug, the entire floor flooded and I then realised that the water simply ran straight out of the bath onto the floor. It appears to drain away through an outlet in the corner, underneath the bath. I suppose the bath was added at a later date, as was the wash-basin in the opposite corner (diametrically opposite the bath). Just outside the bathroom window is a very exotic tree – like a small palm, but with strange fruits like cocoa pods at its top. (I now know it’s a papaya – papaw.)

[Sketch:] LAY-OUT OF MY ROOM (c. 15' × 15')

I share the bathroom with a VERY large cockroach, about 2" long, pale brown, and with very long antennae (about 3" long). It moves like lightning and also flies. The light switches to both the bathroom and the toilet are outside, and the light in the bathroom – a circular plastic tube over the hand basin – is fluorescent. So by the time the light comes on, I’m just in time to see “Charlie Cockroach” scarper at high speed.

All the switches require manipulation after switching on, as they are temperamental. This sometimes gives “Charlie” time to hide before I enter the bathroom. But what does he live on? The room is so bare, and the window shut and barred. Ah! The windows of both bathroom and toilet are both barred and meshed … but without glass.

Arrived at 3 Carlwil Place at about 2.00 pm, given a meal but (although I said I could not eat hot curries) most dishes too fierce to eat. The beef so spiced with chillies that I lost my voice and my eyes ran after one mouthful. So ate only pappadums and rice, plus two slices of delicious fresh pineapple. CONSTERNATION! Cook, chambermaid (?) and elderly female relative of Dr Gunewardene held a council of debate around me. All very upset that I was still unfulfilled. Cook (female, no English at all) insisted on cooking some more beef, un-spiced. Alas, so tough I had to “lose” it in the dish of curried beef. This meat was probably from the bullock my mad taxi-driver undoubtedly ran over after leaving me at Boyd Place.

Caught up on lost sleep from about 4.00 pm to 7.00 pm during which Dr Gunewardene came home and hoped to meet me. Another time, no doubt. (Had not slept for about 45 hours. (Is my maths right?)) Have not yet sorted out all who live and/or work here. So far, have met: 1. elderly female relative of Dr Gunewardene’s; 2. Ethel, the young chambermaid; 3. cook; 4/5. an elderly couple (Dr or Mrs Gunewardene’s parents?); 6. young lad; 7. young man (6 and 7 seem to be servants of some kind); 8. one of Dr Gunewardene’s daughters (very tall and good looking, aged about 18); 9. another young lady of about 15/16 (another daughter?); 10. a dachshund named “Laiki”. Mrs G. is away on holiday.

Got up at 7.00 pm, bathed and shaved. Went for a meal at the nearby Hotel Renuka, escorted by Nos 6 and 7, who waited outside the hotel for me so as to be able to escort me back to No 3 CP safely. They had an argument with a drunk who opportuned me. Gave them 10/– each for their “bodyguard duties”, which was well received. Tried to phone home at about 11.30 (6.00 pm, UK time) but ‘phone wouldn’t give any dialling tone. Nos 6, 7 and I unable to say how to raise the operator. Resolved to try again tomorrow (the 14th) at nearby 24-hour telex and telephone bureau.

Lovely and cool in the air-conditioned Hotel Renuka after the heat outside. By now very hungry, so decided to play safe and go for the “Western menu”. Had mushroom soup with rolls and butter, spaghetti, crème caramel and coffee, plus a delicious iced passion fruit crush. Well, with a name like that I just knew I’d like it. The spaghetti was very odd, with cheese, herbs, tomato and … chopped up bacon rashers! However, returned to 3 CP with saronged bodyguards, replete. (It all gets more Somerset Maugham-ish by the minute … “Cue the Chinese bandits and the Indian thugs”.) Didn’t get to sleep till 4.00 am – the price of sleeping earlier in the afternoon.


Arose at 9.00 am. Washed hair in cold water – both the bath and the hand-basin have only one tap: a cold (or tepid) one. Took very leisurely breakfast, colonial style: grapefruit, two boiled eggs and toast, pineapple jam and 3 cups of superb coffee (I shall be alright here, as the coffee is so good …). Another deputation of Nos 1, 2, 3 and 9 to see if I am O.K. Arranged with Ethel to get dirty clothes washed “cheaper than nearby laundry”. Note: after my bath yesterday I was surprised wearing nothing at all by Ethel bringing yet another thermos flask of iced water. (The water is also boiled and filtered, as, said no 8, “this is a doctor’s house!”). Ethel didn’t bat an eyelid, so I batted the only thing I had available. (Amatory thought: my door onto the patio would be a great help in any romantic assignations. “Tap on the glass at 1.00 pm my dear …” I wonder if Ethel lives in …?)

Went to the 24-hour telex and telephone bureau nearby, but after a long time of trying to ’phone home, gave up. The clerk checked with the operator and was told there was no town in the UK called Swanley. Sent a telex instead. (Hope this arrives O.K.) Bought very beautiful avian and botanical stamps for airmail letters at PO fairly near on Galle Road. This, like every other road I’ve seen, is very run down and unkempt. The “pavements” are frightful – a mixture of dust, gravel and odd paving–stones, the latter often broken and lying about in chunks all over the place. I doubt if the Sri Lankans have done anything at all to keep things painted and in repair since the British left in 1947. However, they are – as guidebooks say – friendly, helpful and smiling; all flashing white teeth in very dark-brown faces. And I doubt that I would want to work at road repairs in this heat…

Took 3-wheeler to British Council at 47 Alfred House Gardens. (“Tri-shaws” or (now) 3-wheelers, are electrically operated runabouts with a fabric roof. Room (just) for 2 at rear; driver in front.) Driver waited for me for about ½ an hour while I met the new BC rep., Mr Baker, and a Sri Lankan associate. Am invited to a poetry reading, by Richard Murphy, tomorrow at 5 pm. Mr Baker says about 20 people will be present at the informal reception afterwards and he will introduce me to various cognoscenti present. Also to Alfreda da Silva, who may want to interview me on the radio and maybe write an article or two on me. A useful visit (maybe).

Driver dropped me at the “Maliban Kreme House” on Galle Road, near to Carlwil Place. (He will pick me up tomorrow at 4.30 pm to take me to the poetry reading.) Had chicken sandwich, two almond cakes and two delicious iced coffees for 27.50 (i.e. about £1). The coffee was v. strong and v. sweet (with milk – a little). Strange how the old shilling sign still lingers as 6/–, 12/–, i.e. 6 rupees, 12 rupees. Bought a bottle of passion fruit crush (squash) for 27.50 and a packet of “Nice” biscuits for 4.70 (about 15p). Many varieties of large gateaux and cakes on sale at the “Maliban Kreme House”: cherry, lemon, chocolate, kadju nut, strawberry, coffee, etc. also, large marzipan “fruits” like big petits fours. I resisted.

Met Dr Gunawardene this evening – after he’d finished listening to his BBC World Service programme. He is an Anglophile and keen cricket enthusiast. He worked from 1952–1960 at a Hackney hospital … 40 years after his father, also a doctor, worked there. His wife will be away until the end of January, visiting the U.K. and the U.S.A.

“No 4” is in fact his mother, aged 91.

The two “personable young women”, Nos 8 and 9 are two of his 3 daughters, aged 19 and 18 respectively. There is a third daughter, aged 24, who is married. No 8 (“Shan’t-any”) is in charge of running the house in her mother’s absence, although No 4 (“aged Mummy”) and No 1 (plus servants) run things “below stairs”. Quite a set-up.

Dr G. told me that the strange “cocoa pod” fruits are in fact papaws. When bigger, they will turn orange-yellow like a pumpkin or melon, and I will eat some.

Have arranged with No 2 daughter (Shan’t-any [shan’t any what?]) to take evening meals here at 3 CP. Will be a lot cheaper than eating out, as it will cost between 30/– to 50/– – rather different from the 150/– at the Hotel Renuka. Will eat here tonight at 8.00 pm.

CULINARY NOTE: (for women readers only – male readers should skip to the next “naughty bit” on p. xx).

The evening meal comprised:

  1. Soup with bread and butter. The bread would not be approved of by health food fanatics as it’s ABC’s best milk loaf. (Thinks: maybe it is. I expect a subsidiary of ABC from colonial times is still operating here …). The soup looked like lobster soup but wasn’t. Had bits in and slightly peppery. V.G.
  2. 3 large “escalopes de … quoi?” Je ne sais pas. But tasty – v. dark meat (bullock? Are the G’s Hindus? Christians, I think, as Dr G. said “aged Mummy” used to go to church twice every Sunday up to two years ago, so I expect they eat “the sacred cow”). Meat v. slightly seasoned – gristly on edges, tender nearer centre.
  3. Mashed POTATO. (cold …)
  4. An interesting salad of finely shredded cabbage, carrot, tomato and … pineapple. V. tasty.
  5. A rather “naughty concoction” consisting of a sort of chocolate cream on a meringue base, topped with chopped nuts. I ate all but one escalope, fearing the cook’s concern … well, actually, it was a v. nice meal indeed, and v. good value if it comes out at 50/–, i.e. about £1.65.
  6. As I was suffering acute withdrawal symptoms of my coffee addiction, I asked the (non-English speaking) cook if I could have some. She indicated “no – breakfast”. (The servants finish work around 8.30, so I assumed she wanted to go home.) Five minutes later, Ethel appeared and said she’d get me some, which she did. (Thinks: what else would Ethel do for me if I asked nicely?) Bed at 11.30 pm.

ADDENDUM 1: On the ’plane, on the long stretch from Dubai to Colombo, I entertained (or was entertained by?) a 6-year old Sri Lankan girl named Supundi. She insisted on spellings, and I had to write down such words as “Caledonian Airlines” and “yellow submarine”. Whenever I suggested that I drew pictures for her, she insisted very firmly but politely: “No! More spellings!” (… and at 1 o’clock in the morning too…).

ADDENDUM 2: On my way back to 3 CP from the “Maliban Kreme House” I was importuned by a beggar woman with babe-in-arms. She accompanied me for about 50 yards, beseeching incessantly the while. I steeled myself to ignore her totally, as I knew that to give her a coin would no doubt bring a lot more round. Also, if I was on her “patch”, then I would never be left in peace. But I didn’t like being so hard-hearted …

ADDENDUM 3: Last night I engaged in a duel with a solitary mosquito in my room. When the light was out, I could hear it; when the light was on, I couldn’t. I tried surprising it, with my trigger-finger on the light switch – it was quicker than I was. Finally, I went to the wardrobe to get my “Autan” mosquito repellent. As I moved my box of medicines, something small moved very fast at the back of the wardrobe. It gave me quite a start. A minute or so later I saw what it was – a very small lizard, about 3" long, darted across the table and disappeared into the folds of the curtains. If a lizard lives in the wardrobe, what lives under the beds? I don’t think I’ll bother to look …

ADDENDUM 4: Last night I caught “Charlie Cockroach” entertaining a friend … both disappeared under the wash-basin. I don’t think I’ll bother to look under there either, there could be quite a family living under there …

(Dear Readers: please excuse the handwriting caused by jet-lag, the heat, v. hot spices, lack of sleep … and some 20+ years of typing all letters. etc. will hope to improve it in time.)

Historical Note

CEYLON, now SRI LANKA (“Splendid Land”): also known once as TAPROBANE and – by the Arabs – as SERENDIB, from whence we get the word “Serendipity” – making a happy discovery by chance.


After breakfast, took photos of exotic plants, etc. in garden. Tracked down what I thought was a very noisy bird among the eaves of a rather derelict building next door – turned out to be a small grey rodent-like animal like a small grey squirrel or chipmunk. It was as curious about me as I was about it – but a bit too high up to photograph.

Went to PO and posted letters. On the way was passed by the beggar-woman of yesterday – still with babe-in-arms. She held out her hand for money and said something, but neither of us stopped. Hopefully, yesterday’s stony heart was the right thing.

Was accosted by a ‘tout’ who welcomed me to Sri Lanka and then offered to exchange SLR’s for US dollars or UK pounds at a better rate than the banks! He seemed a bit crestfallen when I said I might want to change $50 or $100 in a month’s time – he said his “clients” normally changed $500 or $1,000 at a time. I explained that I had become a student again, and had little money. He wanted to come round to 3 CP at 7.00 pm tonight “for a chat” (with a blunt instrument?) but I said I’d be at the British Council this evening. I doubt if that’s the last I see of him …

Sun-bathed while I manicured my hands – sandy soil of garden very hot on the soles of the feet. Sat in room with bare legs to cool off but bitten several times on the right calf by a very minute insect, far smaller than a cat flea. Managed to catch the blighter and SQUASH it with my cigarette lighter.

CULINARY NOTE: (for women readers only – male readers should skip to the next “naughty” bit below)

For lunch I tried a “fish cake” (2 for 2.25 – about 6–7p) and a “Chinese Roll” (2 for 3.00 – about 7–8p). I could eat neither as the former was so “hot” that I almost lost my gold crown, and the latter so “hot” that the chrome wire of my bridge almost curled up. So I plumped for 2 extremely “naughty sweetmeats”, one a sort of sponge with a thick pale pink “goo” on top, and the other a ball of chocolate “goo” covered in v. gaudy yellow, red and green icing. Both were v. sweet but tasty.

Went down to CP after “lunch” at the “Maliban Kreme House” – surely Sir John Betjeman must have written a poem about this restaurant? – “To the sea! The sea!” Interested to see, among the assorted garbage on the rocks at the end of CP, an empty “Rinso” packet. “Rinso”? When did that go out in the UK?

Saw many noisy crows – maybe they are after the “Rinso” powder? Also little boy (very friendly) cobbling together his own Heath Robinson shoe-rack.

Came back to CP and had a shower. Won’t bother with a chair, the bath and acrobatics in future – just stand in the corner and wave the faucet about.

The trip to the British Council poetry reading by Richard Murphy was pleasant – just a handful of people present (mostly Sri Lankan), including the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music rep. in Kandy, a Mrs Halpe, with her husband (Ashley) and daughter (Sheila). Mother and daughter, tiny but beautiful – lovely faces, with brilliant white teeth. Richard Murphy (b. 1927) was here on a nostalgic visit, as he had been born in Ceylon, and brought up on the Island till he was 6 or so. A privileged child of the Empire – mother from a land-owning Irish family, father a one-time Governor of Barbados, who retired to Rhodesia. As a poet, RM published by – of all people – Faber, so we could talk of mutual contacts in that distinguished publishing house.

RM has lived in Connemara, on the west coast of Ireland, since 1960 and owns a wild, uninhabited island off the coast called High Island. He was v. charming, and read his poems v. well. They were either about his childhood in Ceylon (poems about the Temple of the Tooth, Nanny, his cat Marmalade, etc.) or about Ireland and the fisherman of the west coast. There was a little discussion afterwards.

RM began with a poem called “Moonshine”, which was repeated at the end by popular demand. I recorded all on the Sony TCM-7, but the recording quality is v. poor – I should have used the external microphone, not the internal one. (Twit) Won’t keep the recording.


Richard Murphy

Back at CP at 7.00 pm – I hope I’ll get a meal at 8.00 as I’m starving after my minute lunch. (I am to go to the British Council again on Monday, to meet someone or other. I met Alfreda da Silva briefly before the reading.)

Plumber’s Note: The toilet cistern overflows directly onto the floor, from whence the water flows into the bathroom next door via a hole bored through the dividing wall at ground level.


Maybe there are no cockroaches, lizards, etc. to be seen in the loo because of the dangers of sudden flooding, and they know.

The bathroom floor has a “flood barrier” – a 2" high “wall” across it, to prevent water from the shower flooding out into the house.

CULINARY NOTE: I think I had “string hoppers” (rice vermicelli) this evening. The evening meal comprised:

  1. Soup with B & B. Again, the colour of lobster soup but with various “bits” in. V.G.
  2. 3 meat cakes (i.e. size and shape of fish cakes) and “string hoppers” (?). Quite a few bits of gristle. There is no meat packing industry here and I imagine most is of the car-struck variety or from animals that have dropped in their tracks of old age. There was a little dish of “brown sauce” looking and smelling like “HP Sauce”. However it was of such ferocity I left it alone. Salad like last night’s only with the pineapple replaced by cucumber (?). Very crunchy.
  3. A most unusual fruit for dessert – melon-coloured slices but flavour varying from very sweet, almost sickly, to slightly tart, depending on the degree of yellowness. Papaw? Durian? Must ask.
  4. Excellent coffee again. This comes in a pure “British Railways Hotel” pot in dull silver, with matching sugar bowl and milk jug. (The milk is hot.) Maybe a job lot bought at an auction when the Colombo & Outlying Stations restaurant car was sold off.

All this for 54.50 (about £1.75) is v. good value. The coffee is particularly good value at 9.50 (about 25p) as there are 4 large breakfast cups to the pot and I have two after the evening meal and then two before breakfast the next day with a cigarette. (Smoking before breakfast? What is happening to me …?) The German heating element is very efficient and heats the coffee up (in the BR pot) very quickly. I watch it so that it doesn’t boil. The two remaining cups I put in the water-bottle (metal) together with the rest of the milk and sugar. I thus have coffee for later in the day. (“Waste not, want not.”)

Note on Sugar – this is white, with a brownish tinge, the crystals being the size of the crystals of Demarara … Demerera … Damareria … er … brown sugar …

Ethel tells me that the fruit I had last night was not papaw or durian, but mango. I have struck a bargain with her (no, no, not that!) – she will do my laundry for me for 5/–, i.e. about 15–20p for (each time): 1 shirt, 1 vest, 1 pair of pants, 1 pair of socks and 1 handkerchief. I find I’m getting thro’ one such set of clothing every 2–3 days. 5/– is very reasonable, although it’s not so much actual dirty washing as “freshening up” the clothes.

MEDICAL NOTE: (to be skipped by the squeamish). Anna Herschmann was of course quite right about the rubbing of my calliper because of sweating so much in the heat. There are several ‘contact points’: calf band, lower thigh band, upper thigh band, etc. As these places were starting to rub – and I don’t want to lose water via weeping blood plasma (to say nothing of the pain and discomfort) – I have put on one of the two “Tubigrip” elasticated bandages (“tubes”). This goes from toes to crutch, and, although it’s of course rather hot, it’s better than losing skin (“No skin off my leg!”). I now look like an extra from the set of “The Mummy”.

Had my first attack of “Fawcett’s (Faucet’s) Disease” before breakfast today (Sunday). Am disappointed that the indigenous bugs needed only a couple of days in which to get cracking. (I’m glad the loo is so near.) As there are no public conveniences in Sri Lanka (tourists use hotel loos), I may have to plan itineraries very carefully for a bit … However, so far no “grippe” or nausea.

ZOOLOGICAL NOTE: As I am still adjusting to the time difference, I am still not getting to sleep until gone 2.00 am. Last night I played “cat and mouse” with the wardrobe lizard, who was out and about on the ceiling. I switched the torch on suddenly in the hope of catching him actually on the move. I rarely succeeded; he usually “froze” to immobility as soon as the torch went on, before I had a chance to direct the beam onto him. An amusing room-mate.

When I was in the garden yesterday, manicuring my nails, a medium-sized brown mongrel dog wandered in. It had its right front leg done up in a ball of cloth, with string, and thus limped. Ethel told me that it had been in a car accident. It belongs to a neighbour and is named … “Happy”! I never expected my story of the cat to come true!! (LOST: small black cat with one eye, one ear and right front leg missing: has been castrated. Answers to the name of “Lucky”.) There is nothing new under the sun.


Tried to make contact with Mrs Manorama Muthu Krishna, the Trinity College of Music local examinations rep. in SL, but failed. Took a 3-wheeler – a nice way to travel as it’s open, and one gets a cool breeze from its c.20 m.p.h. progress. The driver – to whom I showed the address (30 Galle Road) – LEFT this road and then had a puncture near the Zoo! While he mended it, a horde of small boys aged between 5 and 10 appeared, and kept asking for cigarettes and money. I refused to give them anything, and told the smallest (and most persistent) he was too young to smoke, advising him to eat papaya instead. They helped the driver put on a new wheel by simply tilting the vehicle to one side to an angle of 45°. We left to return – at long last – to Galle Road, and I threw a single cigarette out and watched them scramble for it. That allowed us to make off without being followed. We finally found No 30 Galle Road – no easy task, as the numbers of this immensely long street don’t appear to follow any logical pattern. The meter stood at 72–80 so I offered the driver 50/–, pointing out that I hadn’t asked for the Zoo. He was unhappy about this, so I made it 60/– and he said O.K. I called at No 30, but no-one knew or had heard of Mrs Muthu Krishna … will have to try what I suspect is a work ’phone no. tomorrow.

The cost of the 3-wheeler back to 3 CP, down Galle Road was just 41.80, so 50/– for the previous diver would have been more than enough. The 2nd driver – a young man – offered me a cut-rate when he knew I’d be around for a month or more. He will come at 10.00 am tomorrow to take me to the British Council, and he will call each day at the same time, on the off-chance, to see if I want transport that day. I wonder if he will. Yesterday, I waited from 4.30 to 4.45 for the driver who’d taken me to the British Council the previous day. He didn’t show up, so I took a passing 3-wheeler.

ZOOLOGICAL NOTE: a chance inquiry of Dr G. yesterday about “any poisonous snakes in SL?” resulted in his lending me an issue of the “Ceylon Medical Journal” for Sept. 1983, which is entirely devoted to the subject of snakes in SL. Apparently, there are 92 different species of snake here on the Island, of which 5 are deadly: the common cobra, the common krait, the Ceylon krait, the Russell’s viper and the saw-scaled viper. Snake-bite hospital admissions in SL in 1980 numbered 2,708, of which 36 died. SL has a higher incidence of snake-bite than any other country in the world. However, the problem is a rural one, with workers on the tea, sugar, cocoa and coffee plantations being most at risk. Dr G. says that in over 40 years of living and practising in Colombo, he has never seen a snake nor had to treat a snake-bite. Nowadays, with all the hustle and bustle of the city – to say nothing of the raucous racket of the non-stop traffic – it’s hard to imagine any snake wishing to become a city-dweller. (“Snakes avoid confrontation with man and only strike if frightened or threatened.”) It had been my intention to look for lizards on the patio by moving the many large shrub pots about, but – somehow – I don’t think I’ll bother now, just to be on the safe side …

Despite its being Sunday, it was a hive of activity at lunchtime today, at the “Maliban Kreme House”, with some waiters standing on chairs and tables, repainting walls and ceilings, and others ditto putting up Christmas decorations. Even the electric light globes have pendant stars and the cashier’s kiosk glass windows adorned with angels. I never cease to be amused and amazed by the curious admixture of East and West here – just around the corner in Galle Road we have a batik shop next-door to a Rank-Xerox shop (“electronic memory typing”), a native leather shop opposite “Pinball Wizard” (an amusement arcade). On my 3-wheeler journeys this morning, I passed a Buddhist temple, a Methodist church and a mosque …

The “Maliban Kreme House” doesn’t do sandwiches on a Sunday, so I had to have a really outrageously over-sweet lunch of (v. sweet) iced coffees (2) and 3 cakes. I actually ordered 4 cakes, but even my sweet tooth – one of the few remaining – rebelled at No 4, so I left it.

When I left the MKH it was looking v. festive and “Christmassy” and the waiters were decorating one another amid much good-natured raillery. I am obviously not going to miss Christmas after all … though it will, I think, be different from usual …

NOTE FOR PLUMBER’S MATE: Using the tap on the wash-basin is like playing “Bingo”. It is a sort of “Supatap”, but seems to operate not only clockwise and anti-clockwise, but also up and down. It never does the same thing twice running; if one turns it anti-clockwise to get water one time, one has to turn it clockwise to achieve the same result the next … fortunately, one can turn the water off by bearing down on the tap … eventually.

FOR THE ATTENTION OF THE LONDON MET. OFFICE: Why is it that it is so lovely and cool at night after the heat of the day BUT the temperature has dropped only 1° or 2° (from 83° to 82° or 81°)? Is it something to do with the trade winds from the sea at night? Or v. clear skies at night? Or both? A conundrum. Now – 5.30 pm, Sunday, December 16 – it is VERY heavy and oppressive – also v. overcast and “dark”; it feels as though it ought to rain soon … I shall go and wash my hair in a little while, both to freshen up and clean it; it seems to get v. lank and greasy v. quickly. (The heat? Sweating?)

ADDENDUM TO NOTE TO PLUMBER’S MATE: Well, one thing about the water lying in the pipes all day is that the water is really quite “hot” for about ½ a minute, when one runs it in the evening for a shower. Thus there is not too much of a shock to the system …

NOTE FOR LINGUISTS: Road names and many other signs, advertisements, etc. are given in three languages: Sinhala – Tamil – English.

Sinhala is a v. attractive script – all “bending bums”, as it were. I give a sample below (from a toilet roll wrapper, late 20th Century)


Sinhala (or Sinhalese) is spoken v. fast, with many rising inflections. The people here in the house are v. vociferous, talking v. loudly a lot of the time, with a lot of laughter. While I have heard what I think is a lot of good-natured ribbing going on among the servants, I don’t think I’ve heard any obvious quarrelling.

I have learned one phrase – “ess-toodi” (“thank you”) and it causes a lot of amusement when I use it.

Daniel’s aniseed balls have caused a lot of interest, and Ethel, the cook and the gardener all tried one with obvious relish. I wonder if one can get aniseed here? I imagine one can on this “Island of Spices”. I wonder because they seemed unused to the flavour, and seemed to think the balls came from America, for some reason or other.

It’s so bloody dark and oppressive that I must go and wash (6.15 pm). (Exit, pursued by a bare ….)

That’s better … have now washed my hair and cut it with the “razor-blade-in-a-comb” thing. It now looks as though I was attacked by a berserk lawn-mower on a dark night or the revolving fan finally came off the ceiling and I was in the way. Anyway, it should be lot cooler now, even if it is rather “1930’s colonial-style”. (“Corporal” I told that man to get his hair cut – not join the bloody Hari Krishna sect!!”)

CULINARY NOTE: I forgot to say that I had a large slice of papaya (papaw) for breakfast; I also managed to persuade Ethel actually to cook the two “lightly boiled eggs”. On Friday and yesterday they were virtually raw – just a layer about 2mm thick lining the shell, with the more or less raw yolk adrift in a private sea of albumen.

Actually, I did wonder if they were raw anyway, and that they came out of the chickens v. slightly cooked like that because of the heat …

ENTOMOLOGICAL NOTE: There is an interesting “jumping spider” on the inside of the French windows, a little larger than our own black and white one. It’s rather comical to watch as it can jump in any direction without warning – and does so frequently, for no apparent reason …

CULINARY NOTE: (Sorry about this, but each evening meal brings a new discovery …)

I think Ethel must have the evening off, as my meal was brought to me by the cook. It comprised:

  1. NO SOUP! (Shame, shame …)
  2. 3 pieces of “fish” (?) each 1 cubic inch, with thinly sliced sauté potatoes, sliced carrots and sliced cucumber: the latter obviously from a v. large cucumber as the slices were (some of them) about 3" in diameter.
  3. The dreaded “HP-type sauce” again … this is put into glass or glazed stoneware dishes as it would, I imagine, dissolve a metal dish. (In any case the “fish” was seasoned quite a lot, so further spicing seems a bit unnecessary …)
  4. 4 slices of ABC’s milk loaf (but no butter).
  5. A v. delicious crème caramel, which proved to be rather frustrating. After the “crème” was eaten, a thick layer of caramelised sugar was revealed at the bottom of the dish. This was incredibly hard, and so firmly stuck to the dish that it resisted all efforts to remove it with table-knife, pen-knife, razor blade and scalpel. How on earth do they wash the dish up?

Note: Was it fish or some sort of crustacean? I found two “bones” which looked like a part of a crustacean, being rather pinkish. (“Shan’t-Any” says it’s SEER-FISH) [An inferior large mackerel!]


An eventful day … but news of last night first. I managed to kill “the mosquito” last night, although not before it had got me. I saw a large raised bump on my right forearm on going to bed: its starting to itch made me aware of it. Later, at about 1.30, when I was dozing off, its humming roused me. I put on the light and saw it – about a foot from my head, on the wall above the head-rest. I don’t think it was a malarial mosquito (Anopheles). Paul de Kruif, in his book, “The Microbe Hunters”, describes the Anopheles mosquito as ‘a beautiful, delicate, silvery-grey mosquito’. Last night’s brute was dark-brown, almost black and squat. I killed it with a screwed up ”Kleenex”, and a v. large blood-stain resulted; it must have been resting after gorging (I know the feeling well …). However, in the morning, the bloodstain was quite black, not a dirty brownish-red. This seems to suggest animal, rather than human blood, so maybe I’ve done “Leiki” the dachshund a favour …

The 3-wheeler arranged for 10.00 am didn’t show up (by 10.15), so I took another to the British Council, whose air-conditioning was very welcome. (The day started v. heavy and oppressive.) Mr Baker, the BC rep., arranged for me to meet Earle de Fonseka, the conductor of the Colombo Symphony Orchestra, at 10.00 am, the 27th, at the BC. E. de F. is actually Professor of Public Health at the University – there are no professional Western musicians in SL.

Mr Baker also got his secretary to ring up the telephone number I have for Mrs Monorama Muthu Krishna, the TCM rep. I spoke with her on the phone and arranged to call on her tomorrow between 10 and 11.30 – it’s the last day of her term and I can meet some of her pupils. She gave instructions how to get to her office. (The mystery of the apparently illogical numbering of Galle Road is now cleared up – each time the postal district changes, e.g. from Colombo 3 to Colombo 4; from Colombo 4 to Colombo 5, etc., the numbering begins again at 1. I suspect I called at 30 Galle Road, Colombo 5 instead of 30 Galle Road, Colombo 6, yesterday.

Mr Baker also gave me the telephone number of Mrs Olga de Livera, the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music rep. in Colombo – she must surely know Mrs Bridget Halpe, the AB rep. in Kandy? – and is trying to put me in touch with a Belgian, Mr Rudi Corens, of the Institute of Aesthetic Studies (in Albert Crescent, Colombo). This he is doing because I expressed an interest in indigenous music, which the Institute is involved in. Then, he invited me to attend his “at home” in the next-door “residency” next Saturday (6.00 – 9.00). Finally, he gave me Mrs Alfreda da Silva’s telephone number, hinting that I should follow up her interest in me. Altogether, a v. helpful rep. for the lone Brit. At large in a still alien world …

Returned to 3 CP to find the dirty breakfast things still on my table! As the BC library’s “reprography unit” (ugh!) could only do 2-sided A4 for 4/– per double sheet (about 13p), I went to the Rank-Xerox place just around the corner. When I explained to the manager that I would be at 3 CP for at least a month, and that I would be needing Xerox copies from time to time, as the diary “grew”, he offered me a cut-price of 2.50 per 2 sides, plus 10% discount. I of course accepted, and the copies of pp. 1–31, inc., I collected later today; they were quite good. (Will mail to Mary, Yvonne and Derek, etc. tomorrow.)

Decided to walk to the UK High Commission, to “check in”, as it doesn’t seem far up Galle Road on the map; about 1 inch. Passed many interesting sights en route – including a sort of street market – and inhaled some pretty interesting “pongs” – spices, human, etc. Saw my first leper – a man with no right hand, just a stump, sitting on the “pavement” begging (by waving the stump around). Many beggars of all kinds – disfigured, blind, etc. Having to steel myself to resist all importuning.

The “pavement” of Galle Road has to be seen to be believed; I reckon Gen. von Runstedt would have hesitated before ordering his tank divisions onto it. Although I tried to be as careful as possible, I fell heavily – ironically, right opposite the High Commission – badly bruising my whole right side, and taking the skin off my right knee. However, I wasn’t on the ground for more than a moment, as many saronged passers-by rushed to my aid and heaved me rapidly aloft again. I thanked them and made off, and one pointed to his eyes and then to the “pavement”. Quite: too much gawping, not enough looking. Needless to say, when I finally managed to cross the road, with its virtually incessant flow of traffic in both directions, and present myself at the imposing (and locked and guarded) gates of the UK High Commission … it was shut for lunch. However, this mild irritation was offset when I looked back across the street to the row of little shops, kiosks and cafes I had just left. One, with a frontage of a mere 10–15 feet or so, open to the street, was called “Embassy View Hotel”. (The even bigger and more imposing High Commission of the USA is next-door to the UK one, and I noticed, as I waited for a moment for a 3-wheeler to bring me back to 3 CP, the pavement in front of these two grand edifices is broad and well maintained. By whom, I wonder?)

ENTOMOLOGICAL NOTE: In the garden at 3 CP today I have seen – on two separate occasions – a beautiful red butterfly, rather like our own Red Admiral, but about twice as big. I have been surprised at the lack of butterflies (in particular) and insects (in general) – maybe the Sri Lankans are doing what Europe and the USA have done: killed off many insects with the wide and indiscriminate use of insecticides and pesticides. (I must ask Dr G. about this.)

CULINARY NOTE: Had a most delicious mango ice cream at the MKH at lunch today; made – of course – with real fruit. Was in time today to get a chicken sandwich again. The sandwiches are with the ubiquitous ABC milk loaf bread, with the crusts removed, and are wrapped and labelled. The chicken – all good meat, with no skin or gristle, is a little “hot” but not too much so. (Thinks: Maybe the chickens are fed on various spices?) The MKH is one of many such establishments, I imagine, as there is a Maliban Biscuit Manufacturing Co. and a Maliban Hotels Ltd. The ABC of Ceylon, maybe? The staff are beginning to know me. They wear a definite “uniform”, the women in half-saris and the men in short-sleeved brown over-shirts and white sarongs, which makes them look like inverted cups of “Espresso” coffee.

Whoever wrote the menu I was given is clearly a devotee of Flash Gordon – “Mango” was written as “Mungo”.

Both when I returned to 3 CP for a wash before lunch and when I returned from the MKH after lunch I noticed that the dirty breakfast things were still on the table.

MEDICAL NOTE: (to be skipped by the squeamish): I dressed my weeping knee with “Ster-Zac” (for the treatment of cord stumps). This little can of powder came back from the hospital with Matthew after he was born – in 1965. I wonder if “Ster-Zac” is effective after 19 years?

No recurrence of “Fawcett’s Disease”; so maybe the single attack was not caused by indigenous bugs after all, but by something I ate. (Maybe exotic fruit?)

METEOROLOGICAL NOTE: Today began heavily overcast and oppressive; then it cleared by midday (sun, blue sky, fleecy white “cotton wool” clouds, v. high); then it became as in the morning; Dr G. said it hadn’t rained for a week. Then it rained a little in the evening – gently, with widely spaced large drops. It made things much cooler and was v. refreshing.

A CAUTIONARY TALE: (for adults only) While I was admiring large bamboo scaffolding entirely covering the front of a large office building near to the Bank of Ceylon, which went up six stories, I was accosted yet again by the ‘tout’. He told me he would give me a much better rate of exchange than the bank: 30/– to the U.S. dollar (to the bank’s 24.50) and 45/– (!) to the U.K. pound to the bank’s 30). When I asked him how he could do this, he said: “I buy whiskey at $6 a bottle and sell it at $12 a bottle. Good profit.”

Anyway, I strung him along for a bit and agreed to meet him at the top of CP in ½ hour with $100 in small denominations ($20, $10 and $5), for which he would give me 3,000 SLR (instead of the bank’s 2,400 SLR): a profit to me of 600 SLR (about £20). I then went to a nearby travel agents and checked that the official rate of exchange was in fact 24.50 to 1 US dollar; it was. The people at the travel agents told me this ‘tout’ – and many others who, like him, operated near and around the Bank of Ceylon, needed foreign currency with which to buy duty free whiskey. They assured me that the police weren’t at all concerned about their little racket, which they knew all about. (Who knows – maybe some of the police are themselves involved in it?) My ‘tout’ told me he would take travellers cheques in any foreign currency – “my friend in the bank will cash them – no problem”)

So … I met the ‘tout’ at the top of CP … and there were now two men. “This is my boss”, said the ‘tout’ and we shook hands. I was instructed to put the $100 into an envelope, which I did. Then – again upon instructions – I sealed it. The boss wrote “$100 – 3,000” on the envelope and I was instructed to return to the house and then come back to the end of CP in 10–15 minutes, whereupon I would be handed an envelope containing 3,000 S.L.R. for which I would hand over my sealed envelope containing the $100.

I returned to 3 CP and leant on the garden wall for a bit. I decided to abandon the whole risky and unsavoury business. In any case, any problem involving the police, dodgy financial dealings, etc. could jeopardise any application for a visa to stay on in SL after a month. And, of course, if one wishes to re-convert SLR to any foreign currency when one leaves the country, then one has to show proof of all changes of one currency to another, and show that what foreign currency one brought in tallies with all exchanges, etc. I didn’t feel that a cheap tatty envelope with “$100–3,000” written on it, would go down very well for the immigration officials …

I was just about to go into the garden of 3 CP when a tall, quiet grave man of about 50, wearing a sarong, came up to me. At first, I thought he was a sort of courier, sent by the ‘boss’. But no … his English was limited, but his message clear: “They had men. No good. You go back house. No talk with bad men now.” I did so.

I told Ethel and No 1 about this little adventure and they were most concerned. Later, when Ethel came with my dinner, she shut the French windows and bolted all bolts, etc. She seemed to think that the ‘bad men’ would come in the night. “Keep door locked-ed,” she said, with an Elizabethan stress. “If men come to door, don’t open! You ring buzzer.” No-one came. Not even the lizard out of the wardrobe, as far as I know.

A STRANGE CONTRAST: There seemed to be more than the usual number of beggars around the MKH today including what I think is a polio, with both legs withered. He shuffles along the pavement on his bottom, propelling himself along the pavement with his hands. Also an aged, white-haired gent in the most incredible hand-operated wheel-chair. It has a sort of bicycle-chain affair in front and he turns “pedals” with his hands. Both sides and back of the chair are covered with Sinhalese writing. He looks rather like a self-propelled fakir (faker?) to me.

I’d noticed a nice board at the top of CP which said: MINERVA GALLERY – Gowns, Jewellery. So I wandered down the lane to No 14. It seemed to be a large private house but with some sort of security man at the open door. (There seem to be many such here, at the entrances of POs, banks, offices, etc.) What a contrast! I looked round both downstairs and upstairs showrooms, all air-conditioned and staffed by older women in full saris. Showcase after showcase of precious and semi-precious gems of all kinds, from rubies and emeralds to zircons and cat’s-eyes, both set and unset. Many items were unpriced – clearly the sort of place where the clientele don’t bother to ask – they simply order something and have it sent down to their hotel or yacht. The cheapest items I could see were unusual and v. attractive: small oblongs of silver, each embossed with one of the zodiacal signs, and each with the appropriate birth-stone (small) set in it. The prices ranged from 250/– to 300/– (about £8.50 to £10). I could not help thinking, as I trod these quiet rooms, with their thousands and thousands of rupees’ worth of gems, of all the beggars only about 100 yards away, up on Galle Road. Like any other country in the world, SL has a long way to go “to redress the balance”.

CULINARY NOTE: The evening meal comprised:

  1. 4 “meat cakes” or “hamburgers”, about the size of small fish-cakes. I ate 3. They were full of gristle. By the time I’d ploughed through these, I had a pile of gristle the same height and size as the remaining “cake”. According to my mathematics, that means that each “cake” comprised 2/3 meat and 1/3 gristle.
  2. A v. tasty “cabbage cheese”, i.e. like a cauliflower cheese: shredded white cabbage in a milk-based sauce, topped with cheese, oven-cooked in a stoneware dish.
  3. 4 slices of ABC bread.
  4. An enormous slice of fresh pineapple – these are always cut across the fruit, i.e. circular.
  5. The usual excellent coffee (plus my usual after-dinner Henri Winterman’s “Slim Panatella”). [Alas, the packets of these I brought with me I finished off last evening, so I had to open the first of Daniel’s 4 packets “for Christmas”.]

ADDENDUM TO LAST NIGHT’S MENU: I finished off my dinner last night with a “capful” of brandy out of the beautiful stainless steel and leather hip-flask Geoffrey gave me, in advance, for Christmas. I felt I’d had a rather busy and tiring day! (Well, I am spending hours each day, writing up this diary …)

MEDICAL NOTE: By the evening, I was beginning to feel the ill-effects of my heavy fall in the morning. Apart from the v. painful knee and thighbone I was having trouble breathing, i.e. it was painful to take a deep breath. I obviously compressed my chest in the fall. I do not have with me anything suitable for bruises, so I had to choose between “After Sun Milk” and hydrocortisyl ointment to rub into my knee: I chose the latter.

It was v. painful to lie on my right side in/on bed, as the bruising is to the top of the tibia and the top (“bump”) of the femur.

However, I had a cold shower before going to bed and that seemed to ease things a bit. V. cool afterwards under the fan. Slept quite well – mostly on the left side – as pretty exhausted by the fall, heat, travelling etc.