I spent the next week working with my colleagues, spending evenings at Roger’s, the hotel or the Queen’s Bar. The Chalet hotel grew on me, they served strange meals in the evening, but I knew a few dishes I quite liked, and enjoyed my poached eggs and silver pot of tea in the morning. One thing I had to be careful of there were the monkeys. A troop of them played around in the trees behind the hotel and frequently came into the grounds to scavenge. Unless I was on the small terrace outside my room, I had to keep the window closed, or else they would have leapt in and stolen something from me. They pattered across the rooftops, sometimes so preoccupied with their own squabbles that they didn’t notice the hotel staff trying to shoo them away.
The other intrusion in the hotel was the mosquitoes. Although there was no danger of getting malaria in the hill country, there were plenty of big black mosquitoes ready to suck your blood out. Although the room was well sealed at night, too, these suckers managed to squeeze their way through some gaps and get in. I slept well in Sri Lanka and sometimes did not notice their intrusions. But one day, when I woke up I found the perfect way of getting rid of them. You let them spend the whole night feeding on you, and they are so bloated in the morning that they cannot lift themselves from the sheets when you pull the bedcovers back. One morning, I found four of these round flies sitting on the sheets, not able to lift a proboscis to help themselves. So I went splat with the flat of my hand and a massive amount of my blood went spurting across the bed.
My next weekend in Kandy was fairly quiet; I took time to walk around the whole lake in Kandy and walk around the back streets; which were perfectly safe. But an event happened on the Sunday morning that made me glad I was not in England. I had brought a short wave radio with me, and with no television in the room, I had spent many hours listening to the BBC, the World Today, Lily Bolero, all the nice gently patronising programmes they broadcast, and became a World Service Junkie. First thing in the morning, the radio would go on, when I got back from breakfast I would spend my spare moments picking up the latest news.
This Sunday morning, I woke early, the sun had already started to gleam through my windows. I turned on the radio and waited for the seven o’clock news. The report headed with breaking news that Lady Diana, Princess of Wales, had been involved in a car crash in Paris and had been taken to a hospital. She apparently has some broken bones but was thought to be OK apart from that. No news had been given on her condition for an hour and the journalist, in his considered opinion, thought this meant that she would pull through. My immediate thought was that her photographed face would probably bear some scars and be not so blemishless again, and I went off for breakfast. I was eager to get an update when I got back, an hour later, and I turned on the radio. With a knack that World Service always has anywhere on the globe, they switch frequencies every few hours and I could not pick up the station, it had either moved or the ionospheric conditions had changed in that hour, so I fiddled around with the dial. I got several local stations giving out Sinhalese, Tamil or the like, but then I found an English speaking FM station in Colombo, more attuned to music than news. Its news bulletin was in three parts, local news, international news and sports. Each five second news story was punctuated by a electronic drum beat – ba-bum, and each segment had two or three news stories giving the briefest of detail. So the news went, Local News , More Tamils were killed in a raid on Kilinochi, ba-bum, a man has been accused of beating his wife in Galle. Advert. Ba-bum International News, Princess Diana is dead… ba bum.. An earthquake has devastated part of Pakistan. Ba bum.
Er, er what? According to the last report I heard she had some minor injuries from a car crash. I searched the short wave bands again for the World Service and where it should have been, solemn music was playing. More out of fascination of how a news story was reported than any feeling for the subject, I listened in and out of the World Service coverage for the next four hours, while trying to read on the terrace. For most of that time, the news was scrambling around for details, a hastily assembled obituary was put together, some news on the reports coming from the hospital and some commentary from whoever they could find. Of course, Sri Lanka was six hours ahead of UK, so as the morning progressed there, it was still the middle of the night in Europe and no-one that may have given sensible comment was awake. They found Alexander Walker in the Mediterranean and replayed his interview of sketchy meetings with the Princess over and over again. By the time I had had some lunch, the UK were waking up to the news and some more coherent reaction, but by three in the afternoon, the saturation of goo about the woman overcame me and I had to go for a walk.
For the next three days, anyone who thought I might be English came up to me and said “ I am so sorry about what has happened in England”, and I said “So am I”, but I don’t think we were speaking of the same thing. Before I left for Sri Lanka, I had lost a very good friend to cancer, and rather than the false emotions that were coming out in London following Diana’s death, which I was supposed to be obliged to feel for, I still felt the great loss of someone who I really knew. The outpouring of so called grief in Britain over that next week revolted me and I was so glad that I was not around in the thick of it, but it washed over Sri Lanka to a certain extent.
I only had a couple of days left at work before taking a three-day break. I was spoilt for choice with what to do, but Roger and Flo had leant me a wonderful coffee table book on the ancient cities of the Sinhalese; all World Heritage Sites. Kandy was one, and I had seen several of the sights there, the Bathhouse, the Temple of the Tooth, the lake, the audience hall. The book mentioned the two other ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, that with Kandy form the “Cultural triangle” and within this are some fantastic places, the ancient Buddhist cave temple at Dambulla and the extravagant palace at Sigiriya and the largest ancient Buddha in the world, the statue at Avukana and the temples of Mihintale. Names and pictures at the moment, I really felt the urge to head this way instead of the other alternative, the coast.