Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Results Are In

Monday's was a restless tossing and turning type of night for me. There aren't many things that get me nervous these days but I can tell you that I went to bed shitting some majorly large bricks.


Yesterday (Tuesday) morning was the day for A to get her GCSE results and I thought I'd take it calmly in my stride, being all que sera sera about it and mellow. Instead I spent the evening feeling more preoccupied than a Samurdhi officer turning up at Mervyn Silva's office for a meeting only to realise that I'd forgotten to light my mosquito coils the night before. I kept waking up in the night and thinking

"Oh shit it's A's results tomorrow"

A's a bright kid but far brighter in the realms of performance, drama and art than she is in the more academic lines of maths, English and the sciences. The education system here does baffle me somewhat in that she was trying to get into college to study drama and arts and things yet needed to get sufficient grades in the sciences and more academic fields in order to do that.

And she's not really one of those swotty kinds like Dinidu or The Auf, fellows who I can imagine never even needed to swot for an exam because they'd worked so hard during the course in the first place.

The parent teacher evenings I've been to for A in the last couple of years have mostly comprised of each teacher telling me very diplomatically how A is a great kid, full of life and always trying to be funny (can you imagine that??) but that she needs to concentrate more on the work to get the grade she should.

Strangely enough my reports at the same age were pretty similar.

My trepidation was because A never really seemed to knuckle down and work. Had there been an exam on Facebook or MSN or how to convert one sort of music file into an iTunes file I'm sure she'd have passed with flying colours. There wasn't, well apart from ICT, and I worried about the consequences, about A getting into college and that I might have to send her to work in a mine or sweeping chimneys in Dickensian times.

A was going to school yesterday morning and under strict instructions to call both her mother and myself. I was as anxious as could be, jittery and drunk with nerves and starting the most weirdly inane conversations with people as an excuse to just talk.

At about nine in the morning I called her to see what was happening, she sighed and told me that she was going to school in about forty five minutes. She promised to call me and I hung up, wondered what to do and decided to continue being nervous.

About an hour later I got a call.

"It's your daughter" said my person, you know, the one who put the call through.

"Hi A" I said.

She was crying, something all men are fundamentally afraid of, something that didn't bode well.

"You won't believe it Dad" she said and my heart broke a little bit.

"I got As and Bs. I've done really well, I've got the grades for college and everything" she said through the tears.

"Wow, seriously?" I asked, possibly not my most sensible of replies but it seemed to do the job. I was filled with a sense of relief and relaxation, like the Samurdhi officer who gets a call from his wife as he's going into the meeting to say that she lit the coils even though he forgot.

She read them all out again, I think for both of us to be sure.

I asked for the exact grades. She got two As, five Bs, two Cs and a couple of Ds. Then she said, still through the tears, that she had to go, to see what all her friends had got. I congratulated her and told her nice things.

I'm stunned, in the best possible way.

I'm so, so proud.

Just thought I'd tell you.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Ride A White Swan

I can't recall exactly how long these swan boat things have been prowling on Beira lake but it must be over a year, maybe closer to two years. Either way I've had a strange fascination with them since I first set eyes on the chaps.

Each time I've been past the lake I've gazed at them and harboured a growing desire to go out on one. The very first time I spotted them I immediately thought that some bright spark had found a use for old VW Beetle bodies, they looked so similar in shape. I developed a need to prove or disprove the Beetle theory, to find out if they were old Beetle bodies or if the shape was just a similar one. You can see what I mean can't you?

On top of that I wanted to go out on one, to drift around the clean (?) waters of the lake while listening to the backdrop of the Colombo traffic and to feel slightly weird riding around in such a tacky and artificial creation with the beauty of Geoffrey Bawa's temple in the background. The idiosyncratically Sri Lankan juxtaposition of the two things has captured me for a while.

My problem was one of how to engineer a ride. My visual research indicated that they're usually out on the lake during the late afternoon before sundown and occupied by people with young kids or young romancing couples.

What to do? Young children I don't have and, with the best will in the world, I don't think myself and C would win any prizes if we were to attempt to portray a young and romantic holding hands and gazing into each other's eyes type of couple. Besides, I'd mentioned the swans to C several times and she never quite shared my enthusiasm. That's women for you I guess.

If I were to go out on my own I'd attract lots of those stares, the kind I often get here when I go out to eat on my own, and probably get arrested, so that option was eliminated. Therefore I was left with A and K as my main hope, well, my only hope.

It was a gamble. At their current ages of fourteen and sixteen I never know if they'll be bored stiff because something's too childish for them or because it's too adult for their liking. It's always one or the other, except when it's not.

We were staying on Slave Island so passed the swans a few times a day during our travels and I pointed them out to the girls at the first opportunity. To my surprise they weren't totally averse to the concept and, after about a week or continual enthusiasm nurturing and the most unsubtle of hinting, we grabbed a tri shaw and found ourselves standing by the lake late one afternoon.

It was just myself and the two girls and it becamse apparent that I was by far the most excited about the whole idea. To be fair the girls were quite into the concept too and we paid our fee and boarded the huge and rather lifelike swan.

Until that point I didn't know what type of propulsion was involved and I saw straight away that they're those pedelo things. There's a steering wheel in the middle of the thing and a seat on each side with pedals. So two people pedal and one sits in the middle and steers.

We were told quite sternly that we had half an hour out on the lake and so set off. K and I were doing the pedalling and A steered. The plan was to do ten minutes of steering each. As K and me pedalled A steered our particular swan (no 9 I think) towards the island. We went round the island in an anti clockwise direction, waving to a few other swan people and heading towards the pedestrian bridge thing.

As all of this was going on I was trying to examine the swan's body to figure out if the resemblance to a Beetle was just a similarity or if it was far more sinister than that. You'll be interested to know that I've concluded it's just coincidence, the swan's body is bigger and shaped just a bit differently. Shame though.

As we approached the bridge I had a last minute nervous thought; that it would be typically Lankan if they had made the swan's neck too tall to fit under the lowest section of the bridge. I envisaged a resounding smack as the poor swan's head hit the underside of the bridge, then I'd have to try to explain it to the staff and god knows how the lack of head might affect the swan's sea lakeworthiness.

It was a nerve tingling few minutes as we made it under the bridge and I realised my fears were unfounded. In my defence I think the clearance between the top of Mr Swan's head and the bridge was only about three or four feet, pretty close by some people's standards.

K and I were a bit knackered from the pedalling, it was hot, not because I'm unfit or anything, and I thought that, in the excitement and fervour, I might have overlooked the time and we were probably near the end of our half hour. I checked my watch to find that we'd only been pedalling for five minutes.

We pedalled on, swapping around at the pre agreed ten minute point. My excitement stayed up at dangerously high levels and the girls ended up loving it too. There was something liberating and childish about it.

At one point we raced against another swan, losing the race but only because I let it happen. K also figured out that we could go backwards so we spent some time experimenting with that, cruising around and attempting to steer while looking out of the back window.

Our time was up and we headed back to shore, disembarked and left, all three of us were tired and happy.

It's a funny old thing you know. The whole holiday was a highlight for me, to spend time with the girls in Sri Lanka with C as well is more or less my idea of perfection, only missing a drum kit or two. But this swan trip is something that makes me smile a bit extra every time I think of it. It was the three of us regressing a bit, forgetting about work, school, angst and stress and just being kids having pure and unadulterated fun.

Since we got back I've made the girls promise that we go on a swan next time too.

They'll probably hate it.

But I'll love it!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What Would You Have Done?

Every time I go to Sri Lanka, something that happens a lot these days, I fly with Sri Lankan Airlines.

Is it because of the fantastic customer service RD?

Is it because of the modern, clean and efficient fleet of aircraft RD?

Is it because they offer such brilliant value for money oh Rhythmic one?

Or is it due to the airline's amazing ability to always take off and land within twenty four hours of the stated take off and landing time?

No, piss off. It's none of those. It's because they are currently the only airline to fly direct from London to Colombo, despite the fact that an almost one hour stop at Male, which adds about two or three hours to the journey, is still strangely called direct.

My need to be highly efficient with my annual leave and maximise my time there it's become advantageous to get there in as short a time as possible. So it's my choice, but there's hardly an extensive menu from which to choose.

Since the divorce, that of Sri Lankan airlines and Emirates rather than my own one, things on the national carrier have got worse, in its weirdly idiosyncratic way. The in flight entertainment system is now a hit and miss affair, it's just stupid to expect one that works and even more stupid to expect anything to be done about a broken one should you encounter such. For most passengers mealtime would be far simpler if the printed menus actually said

"You'll get whatever we've got left"

instead of the delicious sounding descriptions of the meal choices that they tempt us with only to continually disappoint.

There are other gripes I have, but this post wasn't to talk about them, though one of my biggest feelings is one of having nowhere to go, no one to complain to on Sri Lankan, as there seems to be not a soul that actually cares.

I'd like to ask you what you would have done if you'd been faced with the situ I met last week. I was returning to London with A and K, my daughters. If you're good at maths you'd already have worked out that there were three of us.

These days I know that the only way to get the seating arrangement you want, though far from guaranteed, is to go online and reserve it. Waiting until you turn up at the airport to check in is pointless unless you're the type who has outriders and the power to stop Colombo traffic when you nip down to the shops for a new Aston Martin.

So, some weeks ago I'd reserved our seats online, for both the outbound and the return journeys. For the girls I'd booked a window seat with the accompanying aisle seat and for myself the window seat behind them, something we're all happy with. They like to sit together and watch movies and sleep and I get to be close to them, though that's far more for my peace of mind than it is for them.

When we checked in I was told that the seat next to me had been blocked, a good result especially considering the flight was almost full, and I looked forward to some space and some sleep, all aided by my trusty inflatable pillow.

We got on the plane, took our seats, then put them back and sat down. Things were looking good. Then I heard some angry voices, well one actually and it was coming from an Indian woman. I joined in with the rest of the aircraft (we had no choice) and listened to the conversation.

It seemed that she was travelling with her husband and two young kids of about three and seven and they had been allocated seats that weren't all together. The husband was with one child and she was with another one with a considerable distance between each pair. She was protesting that she needed to be seated with both the kids, as they were young and needed to be with their mother, for the whole flight.

I must admit that this somewhat irked me. I was brought up in an environment that had some roles of the sexes but was largely mixed and I've brought my kids up, as has their mother, in a situation in which either parent does what's necessary at the time. When they were young I changed nappies, fed them, stayed up in the night with them and generally did whatever I could.

When the Indian lady was shouting and huffing that both her kids needed to be with her I found that I had sympathy for a situation, that of her kids not getting what they were used to, but I didn't agree with the fundamentals of it.

Then it became apparent that they hadn't reserved any seats, they had just gone to check in and only at that stage asked about getting seats together. I, the smartarse regular Sri Lankan airlines flyer, still felt sympathy but now it was mixed with smugness and annoyance.

The crew were trying to help her, using their best attempts at extrapolating logic to figure out who they could ask to move in order to give the lady what she wanted. K, sitting in front of me, was about fourteen steps ahead of all the adults with her logic and had already worked out the easiest solution. She shared this with me and I told her to keep quiet, as it involved me moving to South Africa or something.

Some minutes elapsed and then the stewardess looked at me. I tried my best to avoid eye contact, something that she seemed to be very good at whenever anyone tried to get her attention later in the flight, but I failed with a level of success that was simply astounding.

"Excuse me sir but would you mind sitting over there and then this lady could have these two seats?"

She pointed to a seat that was a bit of a distance away. It was easily within sight of my kids but would have eliminated any possibility of conversation with them without a journey involving asking several other people to move. As K still suffers from travel sickness I was concerned about this.

Meanwhile in the background the Indian lady was creating merry hell, shouting all sorts of rubbish about splitting up families, telling them at the check in desk and then issuing the ultimate threat, that of never flying with Sri Lankan Airlines again. Surprisingly the crew didn't appear bothered about it.

Fortunately K's earlier comment to me had alerted me to the possibility of being asked to move and I had rehearsed my answer. My thinking, that is to say the answer in my head if it were wholly unedited, would have gone something like this:

"No, fuck off. I reserved my seats months ago and the facts that the lady didn't and that her beliefs/culture/lifestyle choices mean that her husband is incapable of looking after a child for a mere eleven hours or so do not make this my problem. And I don't get to spend as much time with my kids as I'd like to so I treasure times like this anyhow. And I want a window seat, I love this country and like to say goodbye to it when I leave."

Of course, being the polite Englishman when faced with a situation like this, the actual words that came out were:

"Look, I'd like to help the lady, but I reserved the seats a long time ago, so I'd rather not move as I want to be near my kids (pointing a whispy hand in the direction of A and K (whispy because I didn't want them to see or hear and then announce that they would be fine if I moved)) (I like brackets you know)"

I'd figured that my answer, without committing to a firm yes or no, would leave the onus on the stewardess. And genuinely I felt some sympathy for the Indian mother, not to be confused with an Indian mother.

The stewardess looked at me and I could hear her brain working, trying to figure out if I'd agreed to her request or not. It became apparent that she'd taken my retort as a negative one when she sloped off and thanked me. I felt all manly and assertive, like an American or a Sri Lankan in a queue, not British at all, and I found it distinctly uncomfortable. I just managed to suppress my desire to shout after her and tell her that it would be fine, that I'd sit on the wing if it helped, as long as I could have a blanket or something when it got cold.

Guilt was flooding all over me. I was swimming in the stuff. Splitting up families, having two seats to myself, it wasn't the Indian lady's fault that she didn't know to check in online, A and K would be more than happy to sit by themselves, call yourself a drummer. All these things were rushing through my mind. The call yourself a drummer bit wasn't to do with the situation at hand, it just occurs to me at regular intervals anyway, I just thought it's better to tell you the details.

Then I saw it, heading towards me. It was a gangly Indian youth, or perhaps I should say ganguly. Everything about him was floppy. His hair, his limbs, his clothes and even his bumfluff, of which there was a fair amount. He looked as though he'd just dipped his face in the glue vat at the Post It note factory then walked past a barber's shop at the end of a quiet day as they were sweeping the hair onto the pavement at the front.

He brought some things, settled himself in the seat next to me and said something to his mother a few seats away. There was that hint of BO, BO covered up by cheap deodorant. It took some investigation but eventually I confirmed that it was from him, not me. I breathed a sigh of relief, a shallow one.

That was the solution, to move the lad next to me and rearrange things so that the irate Indian lady finally got her three seats together.

As you'll have realised if you've read this far, these things play on me. Was I too selfish or was I just asserting myself to get what I was entitled to? Should I have let the lady have my seat or were my feelings about her attitude towards parental roles getting in the way?

So, my favourite reader.

What would you have done?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Colombo Pub Quiz - The Crak Squad Arrives

Many moons ago a bunch of people were sent to their bedrooms for a crime they didn't commit. Years later a few of them left their parents homes, the rest aren't allowed yet . Today, still hounded and harangued by their mothers, they survive in the depths of Colombo 7 as ad men, businessmen, documentary makers and, well kids.

I had a problem. No one else could help me and I knew I could find them.

I put the call out.

They came from far and wide. A band of mercenaries, nameless (apart from David Blacker) and answering to no one (except their wives, bosses, parents and people they felt a bit intimidated by) their mission was to win the Colombo pub quiz. A and K had insisted we went, even though we were flying back to London later that night.

I did a dummy run the previous week, entering a team that deliberately did badly, just to recce the scene, spot the weak areas and analyse the other teams. This time we meant business. We were the Crak Squad. There was:

Me, RD. - The "Hannibal" of the team. I made the calls, got people together, then largely sat in the background, pretending that I didn't know the answers to anything. My specialist subjects of drums, drummers and Superdry clothing are yet to come up I admit, but I'm ready.

C - Her. She kind of shouts when needed, when not needed, and scowls a lot. Useful in arguments and disputes. Her specialist subject is the workings of a woman's mind.

A and K - Deadly with their wit, intelligence and knowledge, after spending many of their recent years sitting in front of a TV honing their minds, particularly where things like cartoons and Hannah Monfuckingtana are concerned. K had spent much of the day "revising" by reading that day's newspapers. She was taking things seriously. They're particularly fond of David Blacker, a matter of some concern to me.

David Blacker - Brad Pitt regularly asks him for fashion and womanising advice, Errol Brown from Hot Chocolate often seeks his hair advice and The Stig goes to him for driving lessons. He was the first choice to play John McClane in Die Hard but, on his way to the first day's filming, the dashboard in his car melted so they got in Bruce Willis instead. Oh, and he's good in quizzes as he knows lots of stuff.

The Chinaman - No one knows why he's called this but he's definitely not Chinese. A mine of information on useless things, useless unless you want to enter a pub quiz or something. He plays bass, likes The Police and, with all those facts floating around in his head, should really write a book or two sometime.

RW - A friend of David Blacker's with a certified IQ of 327, though he maintains that the test was fixed and it should be 329. RW played that saxophone solo on Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty but forgot to fill in the form as he as leaving and so gets no royalties.

The others - There were more people, floating around and offering vital information at crucial times. They must not be forgotten. But I've kind of forgotten their names.

The quizmasters arrived and announced the week's categories. For the second week in a row my specialist subject hadn't come up but I remained quietly confident. There was a section called "cartoons" and, with A and K in the team, this was like having a section called "tattoos, football and what Posh Spice ate for breakfast" then remembering that David Beckham was a team member.

We started the quiz with the history section, a cornucopia of titillating puzzlers leaning towards the historic among us. I kept quiet, preferring to let others have some of the limelight for a change. The Chinaman was able to tell us that King George III was the King in charge when the Brits arrived in Sri Lanka and said it with a certain air of confidence that made me feel he looked good in the glowing evening light of the Barefoot garden.

The science round was a good opportunity for RW and K to prove their prowess in areas scientific. And that they did. There were questions about iron filings and magnets, about Moby Dick, the size of planets and the periodic table. It will surprise you but I wasn't so strong on this round. It mattered not as RW and K did their thing. K proving that she pays attention at school and RW proving that he should probably get out more.

The round entitled "buildings" was another goodish one for us. They showed us pictures of famous buildings around the world and had to identify them. I feigned dumbness here and pretended that I only knew the Petronas Towers picture. It seemed fair on the others.

There was a section called "Mervyn" with questions on Dr Mervyn Silva. I was rather pleased that I knew that the chap who had been had asked if the other people would tie him against a tree as punishment was a Samurdhi officer. If someone can tell me what that actually means I'd be grateful though.

After some debate we decided to play our joker in the cartoon section. I was confident on this, the others didn't share my feelings but went with it. They weren't to know about A and K's expertise in this area, not to mention my own, and we triumphed, scoring a complete ten points, which was doubled to twenty. I knew Johnny Bravo and Dexter's Laboratory myself even. That's how strong we were.

Things looked good as we entered the final round, that of movies, in the lead.

Well bugger me. The movies round showed us a bunch of screenshots of "foreign" language films and we had to name the film. I thought we were doomed but hadn't counted on David Blacker and RW's knowledge of obscure subtitled flicks. I was hoping that Christiane F would make an appearance but it didn't. Of course the definition of "foreign" is slightly subjective and there was some shouting when one of the answers was announced and one team thought that the particular film was in English and therefore not "foreign". I guess it all depends where you come from.

As the final round's scores were announced our team's were left until last. We needed to get more than two points to win the competition and walk off with the grand prize of several million of your Sri Lankan Rupees. The announcement came:

"Crak Squad..........

Seven points"


There was whooping and ahollering aplenty as we ended up taking the prize, not to mention the esteem, honour and sheer prestige. A and K were seriously delighted and now think David Blacker's even more cool than before.

Like one of those boxers, or Murali even, retiring at their peak we paid our bills, accepted the congratulations and cheering and headed off into the night. Some hours later myself and A and K were on the Sri Lankan Airlines plane, trying to get the entertainment system to work and getting annoyed that there was no service from the aircrew.

Was it a dream? Were we really there?

No. Yes.

If you've got a quiz and if you know how to find them......

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Friday, August 13, 2010

'tis the Season To Be.......

All Rambutaned up.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Warning About The Colombo Pub Quiz

The week has been dreamily good so far. Mostly. There have been a few mood swings, temper tantrums, hissy fits and hormonal issues, but overall I've managed to keep things under control. By and large the girls, A, K and C that is, have behaved themselves too.

It's nice for the girls to see people who they haven't seen for a couple of years and there has been the usual plethora of the "my how you've grown" noises hitting all their ears at frequent intervals.

Last night I persuaded them that it would be fun to enter a team in the Colombo Pub Quiz at Barefoot. I thought that the four of us would cover a few bases and the addition of a few more chaps, the kind who read newspapers, we might stand a vague chance.

As the quiz began I realised that it's a falsity, a word I'm not even sure exists. I'd expected a decent mix of questions about drums and drummers, perhaps a section on Kottu or the Sri Lankan blogging community, maybe a chunk of questions on rock and/or funk music and possibly, though unlikely, some qs on the current Superdry range of clothing. Simple ones like the price of T shirts and polo shirts, nothing too complicated. I'd even had a glance at the day's papers, well the headlines, in case weird things like current affairs and politics came up.

But bugger me. The first surprise was that there were other teams there. How unfair is that? There was no mention at all in the ads and blog posts about this quiz of competition against other people. Then, these people were serious. The type who read newspapers rather than just look at the pictures of people being tied against a tree by leading politicians. The sort of people who can identify black and white pictures of dead people. The sort who read The Economist and know proper stuff.

We kicked off and promptly lost the first round. We may have come second in it, but the details aren't really important. There wasn't a single, no, not even one, question about drummers, Superdry or blogging. It was specialist stuff like general knowledge, science, sports and whatnot.

As we progressed through the night our team didn't. We stayed bottom of the table until David Blacker turned up with his brain. The combination of him, A and K gained us quite a few points. I caught him and K discussing things earnestly and ignoring the rest of our team at one point. It was a prudent move of theirs.

K came up with the idea of writing little love notes to Jehan at the bottom of our set of answers to each round. It was hard work but effective, gaining us an extra point at one stage. I like to think I contributed significantly, in particular when one question involved naming the missing Teletubby and I knew the answer immediately.

We delayed playing our joker until the anagram round, thinking that we'd do well in it. But in another cruel twist they made them hard ones, names of Hollywood stars and a couple of directors all jumbled up. Bloody ridiculous, jumbling up the letters in a round like that.

The end result?

Well we didn't come last, missing it by two points. I reckon a team of David Blacker with A and K would do better and myself and C could just hover in the background, getting them drinks and food, maybe massaging their brains every now and again to keep things going.

But, the barbecue chicken wings on the Barefoot menu are pretty damn fab, the Lion lager was cold, the atmosphere was balmy, chilled and fun and the night was a fun one.

Tomorrow we hit the hill country for a few days. I'm looking forward to leaving the hustle and bustle and seeing all those greens, feeling that smokiness and the slightly cooler air. Then we'll be back for a few days and off to Londinium again.

It's nice coming from a country like this, really it is.