Sri Lanka Tour 2012
Ceylon Tour March April 2012
The journey there…..
Sadly well behind the partially true (and very entertaining) diaries from the ever-productive Midnight and Herbie, I am here trying to get something down between work brain-aches.
As mentioned this much anticipated tour (the last I had been on was Cape Town two years ago – or was it three?), had the rug pulled out from under it the day before leaving.
Herbie rang me while I was frantically trying to get 95 things done on my last afternoon/evening at work. He was laughing like a drain as he had found that our ‘recommended’ little 2 star digs in Unawatuna (Surf City) was now quoted as run by ‘Dutch criminals with Muslim henchmen’ and was not recommended at all on the local website.
I fretted at first and e-mailed fellow travellers, but then thought ‘phak it’ we’ll just go there as it is booked and we can always move on. Also we cunningly had an early arrival from Borneo (more of he later) who scanned the place the day before and said it looked fine.
We always like a challenge, as they say. Myself and Irish Pete/Joyce left Oxford for the plane. We had arranged to meet Greavsie, PC Tintin and his new Wurzel entourage of 3 youths plus Herbie and Midnight at Heathrow, however, the latter two were in a ‘VIP’ terminal so as to avoid Messrs Riff and Raff and swanned off behind some velvet ropes for their direct flight. Herbie was still giddy with excitement over our possible digs problems and texting about every half an hour. I fear that Midnight’s descendence to base-lining Lion beer on their flight was to block out the Enfield wonders cackling.
Traditional Addis Army introductions were made over a number of beers at whatever they call the boozer at Heathrow now. “The Flat Lager and Tepid Bitter Arms” would seem apt. The youngsters seemed good fellows and my only concern was that UnPC TinTin had snaffled them under his spell viz the infamous “Gyppo Army” faction of the Addis. Their tender flesh could easily now be exposed to Mozzies, Cockroaches, Dysentery, Cholera and possibly Scurvy.
Then again, as our own digs were looking a bit shaky, I was not in a position to comment. Especially as I had booked said accommodation…
For the flight, we were all split up which assisted in the jostling to avoid being sat next to me (sorry Greavsie) due to my snoring and farting abilities, and Oirish/Joyce due to his ability to talk for Ireland, England, Europe and even the Chatterbox islands of Outer Samoa.
In Muscat I chanced upon a lovely little shop offering Camel Blue fags (my brand) at £1.50 a pack (for you healthy people, you should know that UK fags are closer to £7.90 a pack). I promptly purchased 400 and embarked on the second Airbus from Air Oman. (note for Lonely Planet readers – Muscat Airport gives stunning views of baking hazy desert and cranes building towers).
On arrival in Colombo, the idea was to gather the gang and share a cab for the 7 of us, thus saving costs. Two great friends from Oxford (Lovely Lisa and Baby Dave) had passed through the week before and had texted to say best exchange at the airport. The air smelt tropical, we had rupees in our wallets, things were feeling better. The Gyppos of course had no digs booked and ours was, shall we say, precarious, so a tiring and slightly anxious party set off after I had got them all in the taxi (it was like herding cats I tell you!).
A seemingly endless drag across the suburbs of Colombo suddenly revealed an empty expressway. We had agreed an extra 400 rupees Toll to go this way for speed and I had looked amongst our ragtag Gyppos and Wurzels and spotted that Will had a convenient pocket on the front of his shirt, and christened him into the Addis Army as Toll Pocket, or Pocket for short. He did his job (quite splendidly, and shall be mentioned in dispatches), the sun went down to our right, and after asking at sixteen different places for directions, our man finally arrived at Surf City.
We looked timidly out in the gloom and saw local smiling faces and cries of ‘MISTER JOHN MISTER JOHN, VERY WELCOME VERY WELCOME’ and were gathered up by wonderful friendly hosts. I then heard my name being called from above and finally traced it to the welcome sight of Lovely Lisa, Baby Dave and Borneo Gil waving at us from our balcony with beers in hand. So much for Herbie’s internet scares.
The Gyppo wurzels found gutters and hammocks along the road and Greavsie, Myself and Joyce joined the balcony throng. All met again later and I believe things went swimmingly, though a bit vague about detail.
One thing that was clear in detail of that first night was my finishing my pack of ciggies and nipping back to my room to plunder my newly purchased Arabian filters (well, they are called ‘Camels’), but where are they? There’s my main bag (same used for all tours, plus footie tours, cricket matches -can just about hold a bat and a pair of pads-for the last ten years), still unpacked, no fags – check. There’s my carry-on bag, still unpacked, no fags – check. I am looking for a white carrier bag with two cartons in it, and then suddenly I have the mental picture! Oh joy! I can see it! Yes, that’s it! As clear as day! It is in the overhead cabin on Oman Air 105 to Muscat.
A slightly woozy venture back to consciousness the following morning reveals that our Dutch Criminal’s den is right by a string of beach bars and restaurants and looks out over these at the bleached sand and the beautiful azure glory of the mighty Indian Ocean. As Lovely Lisa would say “How Lovely!”!
A vague gathering is arranged for that afternoon at the Blade’s residence 100 yards along the beach from us where Gyppo’s, Wurzels, and posh gits from posh hotels (Herbie and Midnight) get to mingle. The star of the show is young Thomas Blade who has changed not at all since leaving for Colonial shores in insisting that everyone (who really wants to sit back and have a beer) MUST play cricket with him. He’s a top lad and soon Borneo Gil was up there with various others and I believe a moment must be mentioned that is perhaps life-changing. A watershed in someones life. Witnessed by many. Mr Blade Senior (ex Yorkshire 12th XI, Sheffield Wheel-Tappers and Shunters First XI, 2nd Cornet in Grimethorpe brass band) was batting. Bowling was a demon bowler with a glint in his eye (young Thomas Blade, son of afore-mentioned Mr B). Bowling from the Frangipani End, he took a measured flowing stride to the wicket and released in a smooth delivery reminiscent of Michael Holding, a good length ball on middle stump. The Proud Father flicked at the ball dismissively, but sadly no contact was made………..except the ball on the stumps. The look of the world falling about him on Mister B’s face I shall treasure forever.
Chin up mate!
As the Seniors were now amongst us new names for new members had to be devised. Pocket had already been branded, so now Gavin had no option but to become ‘Stacey’ despite pathetic protestations that ‘I’ve never even seen the program’, and Tufty Squirrell was just obvious. Mainly as he was always looking longingly at nuts and trees, and also couldn’t hold a conversation, or control his barnet.
This left Oirish Pete and Borneo Gil. Herbie said the former should be Spud but ‘Joyce’ came back as the preferred group decision – and a reason for this to be writ:-
“A curly haired fellow called Joyce
Became the obvious choice
The idea of Spud
Was nipped in the Bud
The AA had sounded it’s voice!”
This left Borneo Gil looking worried. Midnight decided that he looked a bit like Mark Butcher. As Midnight’s mind consists of Films, words said in films, characters in films, credits to films, stars of films, songs in films etc. We could all see that this was going to be shortened to ‘Butch’ and thence to ‘Sundance’. A bemused Gil looked reasonably happy with this although he had trouble recalling what Mark Butcher looked like so wasn’t sure. Bless ‘im!
There are a mixture of memories I have of various gatherings, swims, meals, drinks, more drinks, and days and nights passing very happily in Unawatuna. This place really is great. Cheap as chips with good food and beer (just make sure that you get a cold one and if in daytime get a small bottle so it has less time to warm up – Tripbeeradvisor.com).
A few things stand out – a random ManU tw*t talking wind-up nonsense in some bar with a 1970s shaggy perm, which was ironic as he loves slagging off scousers – no mirrors in his house, obviously. Meeting the good part of Jimbo’s crew, and Mr Blade falling off the end of the bar as I turned to talk to someone else.
The poor Blade had bruises right up his back from hitting steps on the way to the sand. (To explain, the bar was very nice but raised about 4 feet from the beach with a particular section having no hand rail). Health and Safety people were not to be found.
Now, the group of us still out (I think Joyce, Pocket, UnPC Tom, Sundance, other wurzel youth etc), tried our best to be sympathetic, but it didn’t really work, and much laughter followed. Mr B took it very well and the good night continued, I do believe that I was still laughing as I told the story to a random at the bar when I fell off it myself.
I opened eyes to see people handing me sand-filled specs and saying ‘you alright mate?’ etc. Gladly, by some fluke (or maybe the gods special plan for the future) I was unscathed, if a bit wobbly and sandy.
Back to the bar for more.
I also was delighted to be the ‘Judge’ on a number of matters – mainly regarding the Feral youth, and especially Tufty Squirrell, which I had great pleasure in giving my full enthusiastic attention to, and I believe, entirely fair and just verdicts and punishments. My acquittal of the defendant Tufty following his prosecution on grounds of having carnal knowledge of an Austr*li*n, based on his simple defence of being ‘pished at the time’ was, I believe, a precedent to be followed by all.
A trip with Joyce, Greavsie, Sundance, Baby Dave and Lovely Lisa to have a mooch around Galle fort was arranged but I can’t think if this was before or after the Test, or both. Anyhoo, the fort itself is wonderfully mediaeval with a suitably worn look on the battlements. Inside it’s large area is a very quaint and eclectic criss-cross of streets with law courts, souvenir shops, local cafes and restaurants, mostly dutch style with a bit of Mosque here and church there, and Buddhist things abounded. People wandered around offering wooden canoes, elephants and Tuk Tuks (I couldn’t resist) plus lovely lace cloths which Sundance had to claim as a pressie for Mrs S - really very pleasant. This latter present fell in its share value when referred to as that ‘sheet I bought the Missus’……
As Herbie and Midnight have mentioned, there was much muttering about the ridiculous cost of tickets to the game (5000 Rupees = £25.00) and a decision had been made to man the Fort battlements to view the match from there. This we did, and it was a decent view although picking who was batting and seeing the score was for younger people than me. The major issue was the heat. A 10am start for the tropics doesn’t make it any cooler and we were in direct sunlight. The main thing to observe was getting protection with hats, suncream etc and getting water down you. Enterprising locals were soon passing among us with cold water bottles and even brollies (to keep the sun off) soon followed by lollies and the inevitable Lion beer. Bless ‘em. Some of the intrepid English fans seemed to think that they were in Blackpool however and had shirts off….the blistered wrecks that climbed up on each subsequent morning made me wonder who had the Aloe Vera franchise for Galle.
At lunch it was realised that we should repair to shade and a café, but first change some money at the Bank of Ceylon just inside the fort. We all traipsed in as Grievous (previously “Greavsie”, but happily renamed by Lovely Lisa to this) and I changed some Travellers Chqs. Immediate sighs of happiness from us all as the bank is AIR-CONDITIONED and has highlights of the cricket showing on telly! As all transactions in Sri Lanka involve five different people and stamping and signing galore, a good 20 minutes cool down was there for all. This was our movement of choice each lunch break afterwards, regardless of anyone wanting a transaction.
Details of the cricket itself you will find elsewhere, but despite a poor first innings, England were keeping an interest going.
Meanwhile, I must tell you of the morning of Day 2. Due to the heat factor, three of us had wangled tickets for this day (courtesy of Lovely Lisa who queued up for hours on Day 1 and thoroughly got into the spirit of cricket which was previously alien to her, and the AA for which she’s a natural!).
Unawatuna Test cricket schedule:- Up at 7am (honest), strolling over the beach for a plunge in the Ocean (swimming around looking for Bikini Fish as Sundance calls it), Japanese sniper’s eye and general fuzziness melt away, then back by the cafe to order a breakfast of fresh fruit juice, a pot of Ceylon tea, scrambled eggs on toast, plus extra toast and jam, then up for a shower followed by a ciggie on the balcony, then back down to enjoy the breakfast loking across the beach and sea waiting to see where the others are. What a way to start the day! However, the morning of the second day of the Test, I was happily watching a Glossy Starling flit across the trees when I noticed Joyce in the sea waving. I waved back, he waved at me, I waved back, he waved again and was shouting something. “ My phakkin’ shoulder’s gone”. Now my reply of ‘Oh, bad luck’ might seem churlish and uncaring were it not for the fact that Joyce has ‘previous’.
He has ‘popped’ (dislocated) his shoulder on at least three occasions in the last year and also gets the occasional ‘tweak’ and I have got a bit immune to it being mentioned. I did think that it was a tweak, but then sprung up thinking about how he was getting out of the surf etc. I trotted down the two floors but was beaten to it by Borneo Baywatch in the form of Sundance – though he seemed less bothered when he saw no girls being impressed by his manly lifeguard styles.
Bless Joyce as he had got out of the sea by himself already but was in some serious pain and needed to go to hospital. Greivous stepped forward and said he was happy to watch today’s play on telly to keep out of the sun and he would go with him. Tuk tuk arranged and off they went.
Sundance and I promised to keep in touch with the mercy mission and tucked off to the cricket, with semi-clear consciences.
A good day was then had at the Galle stadium. It is one of those grounds where you seem to be able to ‘normally’ more or less walk around inside as you like. No seats are reserved so you get what you can. Good for moving about as sometimes you want shade and sometimes you want to feel the heat – like Mr Trott. A great view there was looking back up at the Fort, as this had flagpoles along the battlements with Sri Lankan Lions flying, and loads and loads of brave England fans with a very colourful array of St George Crossed flags draped over the edge. It looked quite majestic, and I am sure that Midnight will tell me which films specifically it would remind him of, but to me it was like my own mental picture of the Crusades. Luckily my phone could take pictures, so I quickly lined up the ‘Shot of the Tour’ looking up at this wonder from the ground.
Sadly, this produced a result that was perhaps more ‘art’ than desired, as the central theme was mainly of my thumb and half a Leyland bus. Doesn’t make me a bad person…just crap at photos.
Young Thomas B was getting high visibility on the media front as his permanent quest for ‘people to play cricket with’ had interested greatly a number of locals. A particular young Sri Lankan lad who looked about 6 like Thomas B, turned out to be 12 after later quizzing. They were greatly enthusiastic players in front of the stand where Sundance, Baby Dave, Lovely Lisa, The Bs, Herbie, Midnight, Wurzels etc had gathered (the latter having come down from the Fort wall). The only worry for us was from getting hit by a ball – not by England’s brave batsmen mind, but from the tigerish youths in front of us. NB. 12 year old local had an action that can best be described as ‘suspect’, but who are we to question?
Beer was nice and cold, the setting was perfect, company top notch, cricket wasn’t too bad, so why did I keep thinking that I should be worried about something?
Anyone heard from Joyce and Greavsie? Nah, not yet, who’s round is it?
I was suddenly wondering this again about three hours after the cricket by a guilty look spreading on Sundance’s face when about to tuck into food at the Bs place - when in walks Joyce (arm in a sling) and Grievous. They have had a day of all days. I’ll leave the Ulster Wit to give you full details, but Galle couldn’t fix him so he had to cab to Colombo using a loan to pay for it from the Galle Tuc Tuc driver (on the driver’s own insistence - how impressive is that?) before anything could get fixed. The good bit was a) that Greivous did his full Florence Nightingale bit all day and deserves a number of AA medals, and b) that they eventually got to sit in an air-conditioned room watching the TV seeing regular pictures of Tom B playing cricket with our old battered AA faces around.
A BIG EVENT of the week was His Majesty Herbie’s ‘Official’ 50th birthday do. This was decided on happening on the Thursday evening and a full AA presence plus associates was summoned. For what I can only assume were masochistic reasons, Herbie decided that he would rely on UnPC TinTin to organise pre-meal drinks and venue. Yes, he asked the leader of the Gyppo Army Faction to find good supplies. Now, call me old-fashioned, but if I wanted someone to organise a drink-up, I would not be looking for someone who isn’t happy unless he has the lowest price for 300 miles regardless of the product. I would be looking for someone who thinks “Hmm, 20+ people needing lots to drink in very hot climate, we need space and a place with the knowledge and capacity that lots of people will be wanting lots of cold beer’….and act accordingly.
You may be in a state of permanent shock to find out that we walked the whole length of the island – and back – before arriving at a pleasant little beach bar which had a few tables and chairs about and no customers, and now a look of incredulity on the faces of the staff who were previously anticipating a couple of spliffs and bed.
“15 cold Lion beers please my friend, and we’ll re-order when the rest are here” we said. 4 large cold beers arrived with 11 warm ones. I nipped up for a ‘chat’
Me: – how many cold ones have you got?
He: - No more large – just small
Me:- – okay mate, get me 11 small
He:- you want now?
Me: Yes please, now.
He: maybe not all cold
Me: Bring the coolest and we’ll do our best.
Now, UnPC TinTin was hiding at the far end with the wurzels and a cold one, and I noticed that Herbie also had one of the cold ones. Well, that worked out well then!
The night improved and much drinking and banter ensued, I was enjoying the drink so much that I refused the trip for a meal and stayed on with Sundance and the Wurzels (who were looking nervous after being ‘groomed’ by Grievous at the other end of the table). Prior to the diners’ departure, Lovely Lisa had made all realise why she is also known as the ‘Big O’ back in Oxenfjooord (O for Organiser) as she got a tab on the current spending and got all who were leaving to settling up before return. The sheepish Wurzels were wondering if the ‘Big O’ tag related to a measurement of an upper area of her body, but were shushed. Naughty boys!
The diners returned and the songs started, with the Wurzels doing a lot of ‘Where be that blackbird to?’ with nice incestuous words added which are best not quoted here. As the hour on 12 approached I said a few words regarding our fine ‘Birthday’ boy Herbs and introduced Midnight himself for his very own time. Songs of Elvis, Beatles, Mat Munroe etc with Tom Jones from Greivous and a bit of Stones from me, and Robbie Williams from the youth. Great fun and very drunk.
Various people were in a seriously messy state by now, and some (yes, YOU SUNDANCE) sneaked off while eyes were averted. The hardcore then tried to make it homewards at about 5am. Poor Mr B took another fall when a friendly bush became unfriendly and gave way to drop him into a ditch. More nasty bruises. A good night, but no 7am swim this time!
ANOTHER MISTAKE BY HERBIE
Now those who know Herbie will be aware that he is obsessed by getting better places to stay, travel arrangements, hotels, deals etc on each and every tour. When these go wrong, the rest of us have no option but to crease up.
Now, Herbie has toured Sri Lanka before, seen Kandy, Galle and Colombo, and he knows that the latter is just a big city full of traffic. So why does he whisk Midnight off straight after the Galle Test to stay in some flash hotel up there while the rest of us have three days of holidays in the paradise of Galle/Unawatuna? Muppet.
Amongst my favourite memories of the trip concerns an attempt by Sundance and I to arrange a whale-watching trip in this time. Now I have said before how friendly and accommodating the locals are, but with English a second language, and product and efficiency lacking well behind good intentions, it was often difficult to either be sure of being understood or to get what you hoped for.
With this in mind, Sundance and I had finally agreed on booking a trip for the Saturday morning and he went off to find the man on Friday to get it booked, confirmed, signed sealed etc.
He returned after a while and said:-
“I THINK, that I have just booked a trip for two to go Blue whale watching off Marissa with a pick up at 5.30am tomorrow.....
.....but I COULD just as easily have ordered two pineapple salads”.
Thus ‘pineapple salad’ was the term used for all future times when misunderstanding was obvious (there were many of these).