Thursday, July 29

The Mouse Deer Whale Pig

The star attraction of the nature reserves are always the big cats. In Yala the leopard paparazzi flood into the national park every day hoping for a fleeting glimpse of the big spotty glamourpuss.

My own crush is on the much more mysterious and melancholic-sounding mouse deer. The books all describe this creature as secretive and solitary, the sole surviving member of the infraorder tragulina. It runs up low, shallow-angled branches to get itself into trees and it isn't really a deer at all, it is in fact more like a pig, especially in it's sexual behaviour.

The native name for the mouse deer translates as 'a deer and a pig' and my sense of it being stranded between species is reinforced by the wiki entry that says that it has

... a remarkable affinity with water often remaining submerged for prolonged periods to evade predators or other unwelcome intrusion. This has also lent support to the idea that whales evolved from water-loving creatures that looked like small deer

Wednesday, July 28

Things I Can't Show You

I used to do a lot of people-photographing but nowadays all this bloggy, facebooking, interwebbery inhibits me, not knowing where an image may end up and how it might be used can make the camera an unwelcome intrusion, so mostly I leave it in my bag.

There are so many photos I’d love to take in Sri Lanka; groups of schoolgirls, clustered under umbrellas in the street, their hair in thick black plaits, looking like a flashback to the fifties in impossibly white dresses and ankle socks, I’d also like to snap the men in bright sarongs holding umbrellas, shopping slung around them as they weave between buses on their bicycles.

and there’s the little girl with birds-nest hair dancing on the shop counter in her baggy underwear...

Last time in town I went to buy some sarong fabric. As soon as I walked into the shop the owners called out back to someone to come and see me. A skinny child with enormous eyes and a huge tangled pile of hair peeped from behind the curtain. Initially shy, she was soon showing off and performing dance routines while I shopped. Fabric bought and bagged I asked if I could take a photo, the mother said yes and disappeared so I took a quick snap of the dancing child, said goodbye and was about to go when the mother returned with a set of clothes and a hair brush, she quickly dressed the child and set about taming the hair.

This is the photo I feel that I have permission to use - you’ll just have to imagine other one.

Monday, July 26


a concentrated product of cane juice without separation of the molasses and crystals, contains sugars and other insoluble matter such as ash, proteins and bagasse fibers.

Considered to be a particularly wholesome sugar, retaining more mineral salts than refined sugar. Moreover, the process does not involve chemical agents. Ayurvedic medicine considers jaggery to be beneficial in treating throat and lung infections.

Jaggery is for sale in all the shops I go in here - except the ones that sell car tyres - it is one of the things you need to make wattalapam

Jaggery is how I feel when I've consumed too much jaggery - on the other hand maybe it's how I'd feel if I had bee stings around my mouth.

Sunday, July 25

More Food

The Golden Pudding Cupboard stands at one end of the dining room - a glass case full of sari-coloured sweets.

Meanwhile in town ... I spy the creeping influence of franchise eating.

Saturday, July 24

Some Things ...

Sun Protection
I haven't seen a Sri Lankan in sunglasses yet, nor much hat wearing.

There is however, plenty of umbrella-sharing.

Feeling Like A Farmyard Animal
I am often sitting on my beer porch in the evening when the pigs come round, they poke their noses in at me through the railings. I think they are laughing at me.

If they had bananas I think they'd throw me one.

Laundry Conversation
I don’t understand how the laundry system works - a few days ago I put a pile of clothes on my bed with a hopeful note saying laundry. The man who comes in to sweep the room looked at the pile and said

I can’t take the laundry until tomorrow. Here is a bag, write your items on the list

I am confused
But you can’t take it until tomorrow?

Maybe I can take it today

Thursday, July 22

Points Of View

Our film is about what happens at night.

If you go into the Park at night, and it is a bit cloudy without much moon, it all looks like black scribble.

With night vision goggles you can see shapes of animals but the ones more than a few metres from the car will be quite fuzzy.

Our magic cameras can magnify the light of a single star by a factor of thousands and translate heat into light. Out in the bush only the one with the camera gets a clear picture.

The view from my cabin is another thing. The Camera Boys give me their boxes containing the fragments of a thousand stories, I sort through the clips, looking for the edge pieces and important details that will accumulate to become The Most Interesting Story, a good one with little sub-plots and dramas.

Tuesday, July 20


This is a map of my world these days, the film crew occupy three of the two dozen wooden cabins that accommodate the lodge guests, we each have a little fenced-in beer porch outside our front door.

A central wooden building contains the bar and restaurant, there is a Look-Out! tower on top of the restaurant and a fiendish pool outside the bar. The pool looks really good - new guests jump in with the anticipation of a refreshing swim only to find that the water level comes to just above a grown-ups knees. The children have great fun though, there are little islands to leap around on and I spent a happy hour watching three Dutch children playing an interesting drowning/life-saving game there the other day.

Apart from my foam- and battery-buying forays I am confined to the lodge boundaries and have yet to visit the National Park.

Due to the proximity of the park and the quantity of animals that could present us with so many exotic ways to die, we are requested not to venture out of sight of the cabins on our own. I can hear a crashing sea, metres from my cabin but I can’t go and look at it without company.

The Camera Boys are subject to the same restrictions as everyone else, when they pack up the vehicles for the shoot they must include a park warden and everyone stays inside the cars until they get back home again.

Langurs come to play on our roofs, usually a great big herd of them descend and bounce around noisily for an hour before moving on to the next one.

Monday, July 19

The Jesus Pig

Just beyond the bushes surrounding my cabin is a bright green lake, the luminosity of which led me to assume that it didn't support much life but I watched as horned cattle waded in to shoulder depth in the mornings, stood around for an hour or two then disappeared back into the bushes. I also saw some deliciously cartoon-ey storks standing in the lake and realised that a lot of birds come visiting here, so I got out my crayons and walked up the spit of sand that runs part-way into the lake to see them more closely.

Yesterday evening I climbed to a look-out post from which I could see the lake. The sand spit was covered with fat man-sized crocodiles, which made me gulp a bit, then I watched a pig emerge from the bushes, keeping up a steady trot, she made straight for the spit, slalomed between the crocs and when she got to the end of the land she kept going, running on the water without slackening her pace until she got to the island in the middle of the lake.

impressive surface tension!

Saturday, July 17

More Wildife Than Might Be Good For Me

I'm much worse at packing than I used to be, I pack far more these days and yet I have only a couple of wearable outfits - the other ninety per cent of my luggage might as well have stayed at home.

I had considered my pyjamas to be redundant, at bedtime I take a cold shower and lie on the bed hoping sleep will come before I reheat. This morning, when I went to the bathroom, I noticed all the gecko pellets stuck on my legs.

A lady sunbird* pecks for long periods on my window pane, I think she is attacking her reflection and imagines herself to be arguing with another sunbird but her persistence feels rather Hitchcockian.

* From Mssrs Wijeyeratne, Warakagoda and De Zylva in Birds of Sri Lanka
'The purple-rumped sunbird ... builds elaborate pear-shaped nests with a distinctive entrance roof over the entry hole. The nest is constructed from spider webs and other naturally-occurring soft fibrous materials, it is finished off with little chips of bark'.

Friday, July 16

The Breakfast Of Champions

breakfast this morning.

String Hoppers are a sort of steamed shredded wheat.

To make Egg Hoppers
• Pour coconut milk pancake batter into a bowl-shaped iron pan on a hot ring
• swirl the batter up the sides and crack an egg into the bottom
• Place a lid on the pan and let it steam for a minute or two
• When it is cooked, the steamed egg in it's crispy pancake bowl will slide out onto your plate
• add a spoonful of dahl and a sprinkle of coconut sambal if you like.

Thursday, July 15

The Babbler

At dusk the most extraordinary boinging and hooting noises erupt around my cabin. I think it's mostly birds. There is a dust-coloured bird that comes around several at a time, the size of a fat thrush, it is not at all sleek, they chatter away together and make a lovely sound - I am told that it is a Babbler. I look the Babbler up in Birds of Sri Lanka where Mssrs Wijeyeratne, Warakagoda and De Zylva inform me that it is a garrulous bird ... members of the flock help build each nest, which may be shared


Wednesday, July 14

Shopping For Man Stuff

Photo: Gayam and W. M. Upali the tuktuk driver, we are eating fishy buns to fortify ourselves for the journey ahead.

Four hours before I took that photo, Gayam and I had come to town in a jeep, we were in search of lunchboxes, batteries, chargers, clips, leads and other motor-related items, we also needed a piece of ply the size of a small coffee table top.

In town there are lots of everything shops, they are divided into two types; the ones that sell women’s things like household items, crayons, key rings and shinyshiny. The other everything shops sell men’s things; loudspeakers, bendy tubes, wheelbarrows and batteries.

Most of my items needed to come from the Man Shops, we chose the ones with most car batteries stacked up outside them but each shop only had one component on my list, we went from one shop to another and back again assembling a compatible set of items, none of which are guaranteed - when you find the charger that works with the battery you are thinking of buying, you accompany the owner down the road to a place where the equipment can be tested to everyone's satisfaction - we spent two hours on the Man Stuff.

Prior to all this we had spent an hour in the bank, our jeep driver now had to leave us, he introduced us to his friend W.M who would drive us back to the lodge in his tuktuk.

Last item on the list was the piece of ply - the shop would only sell us a whole sheet, the whole sheet was the dimensions of a king-sized bed but a bit longer.

cutting is not possible

A tuktuk is a three-wheeled mo-ped in a cabin with a soft roof, they are usually decorated, this one had gold fringing around the windscreen, a vase of flowers on the dashboard and a red and yellow garland hanging from the ceiling. The three of us looked at the big sheet of wood, then at the tuktuk, we went for tea and fishy buns then we returned to heave the ply onto the roof of the vehicle, we got in and each put an arm out, clamping the sheet onto the roof with a hand - finally ready, we put-putted along the pot-holed road for an hour - all the way home.

Sunday, July 11

My World of Wildlife

Every afternoon the boys drive off into the National Park to film proper he-man animals: crocodiles, elephants and leopards. I stay behind at the Lodge, process footage and have a different sort of wildlife experience. The Lodge is in a sandy woody area, guests stay in cabins among the trees. I have set up a work station on a couple of tables in my room and the geckos have taken up residence above me, their tails poke out from the rafters, I like them but wish they wouldn't deposit such unusually large amounts of lizard poo among my hard drives, adding fresh ones every time I go off for a coffee.

When I do go out for a coffee, giant squirrels suddenly appear on branches, close to my face, cocking their big-eyed faces and holding out little paws, (for what? Spare change?), palm squirrels copulate on the table where I am eating my dinner and cows belch and fart explosively outside my window.

In the evenings at six, about two dozen wild pigs come round for drinks, they snorkel noisily around the cabins waving their snouty lips up at the air-conditioning pipes to catch the icy drips. Tonight I watched a big old boar with his head stuck down a drain, front legs knelt down, hind legs on tiptoe, straining his bottom and huge swollen testicles up in the air in an attempt to reach something delicious, he sensed me watching him, jerked his head out of the drain and glared at me, the perfect image of Ken Dodd, it was just an instant, then he tossed his tatty mane and trotted off to join the outlet-lickers.

Friday, July 9

Today I Am Mostly Buying Foam

After bumping across the country for about 12 hours we finally arrived at the lodge where we will stay and film for the next month.

The first day is spent getting everything set up, we have a lot of very sensitive equipment so we make special nests for all the components which we fit in the filming vehicles to help them withstand the battering they will be getting. Mostly what is needed for this is foam and cardboard - I have achieved piles of these items and the two vehicles are now ready to go.

It is bake-a-cake-in-the-oven hot but we can't use the air conditioning because it will upset the many computers that we use outside for filming then bring back inside to transfer and log the images. From now on I will become a Data Monkey working in my room all day tapping away with my fingers and operating a fan with my big toes.

The food is really good here and I'm wondering if sweating counts as exercise.

Thursday, July 8

Getting To Sri Lanka

This is a drawing of the first 24 hours of our journey to Sri Lanka, the highlights being the 3-hour jam on the motorway, the dash for the flight, the random meals and the bit where we are met by NK at Columbo airport and taken straight for our third breakfast in 12 hours. This is just the first half of the journey. When NK saw us looking like the poor straggly things that we had become he said, When did you set off? ... Yesterday morning ... hahahaha ... we now have very a long drive, you are going to kill me ....

Monday, July 5

The Epic Walk

I had hoped that my father was teasing me in that last phone call but it turned out that he wasn’t, he did look in the comments section of my last post and took Kevin’s advice to pack a piece of Kendall Mint Cake and a stone to suck on - not wanting to travel too heavily loaded he abandoned the banana.

I think we’d have got further but I hadn’t reckoned on the orienteering aspect of this walk which turned out not to be our strong point. I had figured that we could just follow the hundreds of people who were also doing the walk, but their idea of walking was a lot faster than ours, the tracks much rougher and woodier than I’d bargained for and we were soon a lone threesome finding our way around the titter-inducing names of Surrey, I'm particularly fond of Polsden Lacey, Dorking and Abinger Hammer.

How did we do in the end?
Just past the halfway mark, the walking shoes that my father’s been wearing since adolescence started coming apart at the seams and we were all feeling a little sore in parts. Progress had been a slowed by our getting lost quite a bit and suddenly we all fancied being home for tea - I definitely needed to be back by Tuesday, so we put up the white flag and called for a lift back to base.

It was an unforgettable day - for so many reasons, stunning countryside, great weather, great company – in short - a raging success.

I really am off to Sri Lanka tomorrow - if we can get the camera fixed in time

Friday, July 2


My father and I will attempt a 30-mile walk on Sunday, the forecast is warm and sunny. I called him to finalise plans

Me: We'd better have all our sandwiches and everything ready then Dad.

Dad: I won't need much - I'll put a banana in my back pocket

Me: We should take water

Dad: There'll be check points every ten miles, we can get a drink then

My father appears to be half camel.

My brother-in-law is joining us on the hike, a large man, he tells me that he can't find a sunhat that fits.

Thursday, July 1

Introducing The Bedroom Test

New people are joining our team to help with the telly-making. My interview technique involves inviting people who think they want to work with us to come over for a beer then we all do a bit of interrogation. A lovely smiling boy came to see us this week with a view to becoming a junior camera boy. After some general chit chat the current junior camera boy asked him:

You need to be quite organised, are you quite organised? - How tidy is your bedroom?

This particular Camera Boy has the messiest bedroom in the world and it contains a big snake, but I like this way of choosing applicants, in future I will be asking prospective employees to enclose a photo of their bedroom with their cvs.
Related Posts with Thumbnails