First Holy Communion

Tata

I booked a small car to take myself and one suitcase to Negombo, on the coast north of Colombo and the airport on Monday, 31st October.

I had tried to book a taxi but with the sound of my non-native voice the first taxi company I contacted quoted me 7,000 LK and when I said too much, dropped the price down to 6,000 LK (about £30) immediately, but this was still way too much.

I tried the on-line http://www.budgettaxilk.com service next and it is a bit confusing – well I know I get easily confused – but I couldn’t work out if I was hiring a car for myself to drive (never would here) or a car and a driver.

The system is all so efficient, that is if you know what your are doing and I evidently didn’t.  Get on to their website where you can choose your vehicle, type in your pick up point, then your destination, but that is as far as I got before the screen sort of jumped to another page and it all got a bit beyond me so I dialled the telephone number.

A very nice lady had patience with my accent and mis-pronunciation but eventually we got there.  It’s not just a car and a driver you have the choice of. She asked if I wanted a TukTuk, an eco-car, a saloon car, a jeep or luxury car or a truck.   I wasn’t sure what an eco-car was but it sounded good.   She said it would cost around 2,500 LK and that the driver would phone me.

The company texts you with the assigned driver’s name and the registration number of his vehicle.

Unfortunately, the assigned driver, D G Priyantha, couldn’t understand me either, but I texted the pick up address and the destination on the mobile and shortly after a cream coloured Tata was weaving its way around the warren of streets adjacent to the Pelawatta house.

A Tata is quite a small car, petrol but you get good mileage, and you sit pretty upright in the front seat – my suitcase filled the back seats.  It was a really enjoyable journey with D G Priyantha as we chatted in half words and sentences, whilst he wove his way through the afternoon traffic.

The nearby roads are excellent because they are near the new Parliament but as the traffic became denser and slowed to a standstill, the white helmeted policemen directed the traffic at main intersections in the road.  The three lanes would become five or sometimes six lanes a side as TukTuks, motorbikes and even brave cyclists jostled for position in amongst the cars, lorries and buses.   With horns tooting consistently we moved further north and I agreed to pay the 300LK which would allow us to use the new motorway and shorten our journey time.

I had looked up Terrace Green Hotel on Tripadvisor and it seemed to meet all my needs for this week.   It’s just off the main road to the beach and came highly recommended.   It’s spotlessly clean and I was immediately upgraded to a larger room on the first floor.

I even have a flat-screen Sony TV but I haven’t watched TV since I left Ireland on September 17th apart from one schools programme on the 18th which I haven’t seen since.  I don’t know what is happening with all the soaps, who has died, who is sleeping with who and it is amazing how you can switch off from something – no pun intended.

I booked half-board and the dinner last night was amazing, although I couldn’t eat the main course, which was picture perfect.  The first course was described as Cordon Bleu chicken with curry and spices.  It’s all cooked fresh so there is a bit of a wait and I asked for no spices and no pepper.   What I got was absolutely wonderful.  Slim strips of chicken and a variety of vegetables all stir fried in a delicious sauce.  I almost licked my plate – it was just divine.  Then came cream of pumpkin soup with garlic flakes accompanied by a plate of feathery light tiny bread rolls.  I was full by this point and just had no room for the main course which was presented picture perfect so I apologised to the chef, and opted to have a dessert, curd and treacle and then tea.

There are around a dozen tables set in the open-plan dining room, which leads on to reception on one side and on the other, wearing pristine white uniforms and high hats three chefs work harmoniously together behind a high counter.

The waiter is from Colombo city and has been working here for around five months.  He gets the bus home on his days off but lodges nearby the days he is working.

The beautiful girl on reception wears fabulous saris, a pink one yesterday and a blue one today and she does have the figure to wear them.

It rained heavily during the night again and there were several rumbles of thunder followed by flashes of lightning.  The power went off two or three times last night but the hotel has a back-up generator.  However, it’s another hot, sultry blue sky day today.

I loved watching the clips on line of the rowing in Skibbereen yesterday.  So thanks for posting that up.  I was at the daughter-in-law’s niece’s rowing on Friday in Colombo.

 

 

 

 

 

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Observations

Here now two weeks in this, my third visit, to this country.   The first time I came in 2011 the amount of armed police and armed army officials was disconcerting.  On a journey to Haputele, with myself as a ‘white’ front seat passenger, we were stopped several times on the five hour car journey north and eastwards and sometimes within yards of being stopped.   The others in the car were Sri Lankan nationals.

Two years ago when I came out for three weeks for my son’s wedding, it was a completely different experience as there was a huge dilution of the armed police and military.  They were in evidence near the parliament buildings but we were not stopped once when we made the same journey to Haputele even though we were two ‘whites’ in the car, the son and myself.

On our journey to visit the magical Elephant Orphanage, (what an awe-inspiring experience that was), we discovered road building on a huge scale.  It was explained to us that Chinese money was helping the country to develop.   Great swathes of roads are dissecting the countryside making access easier for the every increasing numbers travelling.

At the hotel we were staying in for the wedding celebrations in Negombo I was helping lift the covers off the breakfast display so another guest could help himself when we got chatting.  He was a fellow Scot and explained he was employed by the British Government to train the trainers.  After the war had ended there were so many young men in the military and police who needed trained into other work.   What a sensible thing to do.

Two years ago the lady who came in to clean on a daily basis to help the bride’s mother, was paid £2.50 a day and today’s rate for the same work is £5.00 a day.

K-zone is as big, bright, sleek and swish as any upmarket shopping mall in Canada or the US.  Two  years ago when we first shopped there it was practically empty with few people shopping and many of the available-to-lease units empty.   Some are empty today but it’s a completely different shopping experience now as our quick trip there yesterday morning saw a busy supermarket and others waiting for the electrical stores to open and there are now clothing stores and beauticians and other shops.   There are stalls set up in the centre walkways selling clothing and haberdashery items too.

There is still a uniformed man to direct you to a parking slot and another to open the huge glass doors.   Inside all is shaded, cool and comfortable from the 30+ degrees outside at 10 am.   Whole families are shopping together.   Lovely to see an elderly grandma smiling proudly as she carried her latest grandchild, only a few weeks old, together with her son, daughter-in-law and other smaller children skipping and dancing around her, all shopping together.

In the supermarket there is someone to weigh and price the fruit you have selected and bagged.   There is one person at the till and there was a beautiful slim and delicate girl in a cerise sari who packed our shopping for us.

There are plastic bags everywhere as there have been on my previous visits, but the country is changing as there is a special offer on bags for life.

Another change is the lack of labour.  Gate Late the builder says that it is so difficult to get workmen the country is talking about importing workers.   Like all countries that become more affluent, and there is extreme poverty here too, locals can choose what they want to do and who would want to work at heavy building work in 30 degrees and more.

It is much easier to become a tuk tuk driver and choose your hours and days to work.  But that too is changing as legislation is being brought in that they must be registered and there are rules being imposed they must follow.

The most disconcerting change is the offer of discounts on purchases if you sign up to a credit card – the offer even being advertised in the supermarket.    At the furniture store we would have had a ten percent discount if we had an American Express card and these offers are in every store for other banks and lending institutions.

That does worry me, as debt is the road to ruin.   Coincidentally, as I was finishing Laura’s Dennis the Menace jumper last week, I listened to a US audio book on the Nineteenth-century entrepreneur P.T. Barnum, of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus fame.  He was much more than a master showman but an economic genius and would that his advice was drummed into everyone of us.   What a different world it would be.

 

Whirlwind few days

There’s so much happening these days it is all a bit mad.  But that’s life in West Cork.  The first session of the Fiddle Fair was on Thursday in the Castle with the two Dermots – Dermot Mclaughlin and Dermot Byrne.  Great music and great venue, Dun na Séad Castle.  Many of their pieces of music reminded me of the tunes I listened to in my youth and they were originally from Scotland, or maybe they were originally Irish, went to Scotland and came back again – whatever there was a touch of nostalgia for me.  I didn’t know any of the names of the tunes but knew the tunes.

It was a gentle introduction of what was to come.

But Saturday dawned and suddenly my day was pulled apart.  There was a little girl who was receiving her First Holy Communion wearing her grandmother’s communion dress, worn by the grandmother 48 years ago.  A lovely story so notebook and camera gathered up, I headed to Ballydehob.

But firstly there were sheep to be seen to.  They were grazing in my friend’s garden but grass shorn so job completed, the farmer and another friend had been rounded up to move said sheep to new pastures.  A few circuits of the garden enabled the sheep to be directed into the waiting trailer and off they went bleating a sorry farewell.

Next to the Church where a mass of excited children, newly booted and suited, washed and scrubbed and gleaming were exiting the church into the sunshine, happily posing for photographs.  Images of this day will stay with them for the rest of their lives.  Mums and dads, grandmas, granddads, aunts, uncles, siblings all in the finery smiling into the lens.  Ellen posed happily for me with her mum and dad and grandma.   Darling little girl with the brightest smile and so like her grandma in the photograph of 48 years ago.

Then we headed to Schull to track down another friend, whose birthday it was.  Armed with a very special ice cream, flowering plant and a bag full of treats and gifts we eventually found her.  Spent a wonderful afternoon, sharing the ice cream eating shortbread biscuits, drinking tea and coffee and chatting and laughing in the sunshine overlooking the islands and the sea.   Decadent days, but birthday wishes exchanged and very happy we had shared the couple of hours with her.

Back to the Fiddle Fair for the Saturday night session.  The Foghorn Stringband with Nadine’s smile the warmest greeting you could wish for.  She is so lovely and she and Sammy, Caleb and Reeb are so welcome back to the Fiddle Fair.  Their Old Time music, is familiar to us all and really no one wanted them to leave the stage.

Next up were Daimh with special guest Eilidh Shaw.  This was a Scottish group, but one guy was from  Canada another from California although living in Scotland.  The voice of the girl Gaelic singer was as sweet and gentle as an angel and although I don’t have any Gaelic here too I knew the songs she sang from my childhood.   They played their hearts out and for some it was their first visit to Ireland and I do hope they come back again.

Jeremy Irons was in the audience on the Saturday night and it was standing room only as the marquee held a capacity crowd and lots of people were just too late to get tickets.

I got in around 1 am and spent Sunday doing the write up for Jessie Kennedy’s new cd, the story of Ellen and the communion dress and generally catching up.

Today was the icing on the cake with a session in the Riverside Cafe in Skibbereen.  The Foghorn Stringband played a couple of sessions and they are a joy to listen to and to watch.   The lads from Cape Breton, Troy MacGillivray, Shane Cook and Jake Charron played too – making sweet magic with their fiddles and guitar.  Others joined in but what a wonderful way to spend a Monday afternoon or indeed any afternoon.   I met a friend for lunch at the Riverside and to join in the Fiddle Fair post mortem session so we ended up spending the whole afternoon there.  Had to move my car in case the traffic warden was about.  In fact I should have moved the car twice, but Brendan McCarthy senior was dancing with Nadine and we were all singing again when The Foghorn Stringband set up for the second time.  So it was 6 pm before the lunchtime session finished.

I said to Sammy and Reeb and Nadine that we do this all the time in West Cork – and we mostly do.   A mad mad world and here’s to the next time.