Friday, August 13

Bringing Back The Sun

I'm back in the UK feeling all hazy and jetlaggy and it's bloody cold. A little pile of books that I read while I was away are still by my bed so I have been dipping back into them since my return for a warm-up.

The Book of Indian Birds: Salim Ali (1941)
Lovely illustrations and great text, I particularly liked Mr Ali’s descriptions of bird calls, here he is on the Malabar Pied Hornbill’s call;
A variety of loud cackling and inane screams reminiscent of the protestations of a dak bungalow murghi* seized by the cook, and also the yelps of a smacked puppy!

*Baffled I looked for explanation and found this wonderfully informative passage here
The British had set up rest-houses known as Daak Bungalow... Somehow, there was always an Anglo-Indian woman who would found her way to the Dak Bungalow to keep the company of the traveling British officer. Every Dak Bungalow has a love story to tell, only if the walls could talk.

In the rear, every Daak Bungalow had chicken coup manned by 'Murghi wala'

Reef: Romesh Gunesekera (1994)
Narrated by Triton, a young houseboy in the service of his hero Mister Salgado, sensuous and funny, turning chillingly dark towards the end, I loved it’s 170 pages so much that I eeked them out for days.
Thanks for the recommendation Eryl

How to see Ceylon: Bella Sidney Woolf (1914)
An early travel guide, Bella Woolf went to Ceylon in 1907 to visit her brother Leonard and ended up marrying the Assistant Director of the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens. Contains fascinatingly descriptive travel itineraries and plenty of useful advice:
A Topee should always be worn until 4 to 4.30 pm even on dull days

Ceylon Daily News Cookery Book (1929)
...constitutes a serious attempt to aid the housewives of Ceylon to practise the art of cooking so that, like the quality of mercy, the preparation of palatable dishes will bless her that gives and him that takes.

Contains recipes for things as diverse as Poached Eggs with Mince and Titta Tibbatu Mallung. I’m particularly fond of the section entitled Invalid & Convalescent Cookery, which gives this advice
Do not consult a patient about his meal, but try and find out what will be liked and let it come as a surprise.

Then follows such appetite tempters as Egg White Water, Beef Tea Custard, Invalid Blancmange, Sago Gruel and Stewed Spaghetti.
Who wouldn't get better when faced with this?

Running in the Family: Michael Ondaatje (1982)
The most delicious memoir of Ondaatje’s Sri Lankan family history, pieced together from photo albums and anecdotes told by friends and family members. I looked for it in a bookshop in Columbo, the elderly salesman snatched it down from the shelf when I mentioned the title declaring
this book is a must have ... an absolute must have
he clutched it so tightly that I had to fight it off him. Anyway it’s great and now it’s mine - here’s a bit;

An aunt gives an account of her journey to Ondaatje's father's wedding, they have seen a car in a ditch and next to it the Bishop who was to officiate at the wedding, everyone knew the man to be a terrible driver - he has to be given a lift.

First of all his luggage had to be put in carefully because his vestments couldn’t be crushed. Then his mitre and sceptre and those special shoes and whatnot. And as we were so crowded and a bishop couldn’t sit on anyone’s lap – and as no one could really sit on a bishop’s lap we had to let him drive the Fiat...


  1. Oh yes, "convalescent food!" Whenever we were ill my mum would let us read that chapter in the 1950s Housekeeping Manual she was given as a wedding present by somebody who should have known better. We'd get as far as the White Arrowroot Blancmange set with home-made calves' foot jelly and we'd feel ever so grateful for the corned beef butties and Lucozade.

  2. We're claiming Ondaatje as ours now.

    A Canuck

  3. "to keep the company of the traveling British officer"

    Aha! So that was the secret to building the British Empire!

    Oh Hai MJ!

  4. I have the Ondaatje is splendid.
    I also have an agriculture ministry publication from the days when it was Ceylon, aimed at helping farmers to improve productivity....a wonderful handbook and a real Godsend when faced with wondering what to do with the finca in Costa Rica!

    Still trying to plan our trip to Sri Lanka...

  5. Funny how you had to fight with the salesman in Colombo to buy "Running in the Family". Congrats on the win! That's a nice books selection!

  6. What a fine collection of books to bring back. Hope the jet lag wears off soon.

  7. Personally, I'd let the bishop walk ... he probably needs the exercise.

  8. Welcome back!

    Beef tea custard: good god.

    Glad you liked Reef.

  9. I love the sound of that bishop

  10. I had no idea you could read. Still, now that you're all fancy, you should also try Ondaatje's Coming Through Slaughter.

  11. Kevin - corned beef butties and Lucozade - I used to pretend being ill for those.

    MJ - the book starts with Ondaatje waking in a nightmare and realising he's in Canada - then he decides it's time to go home...

    xl - The British Officer has a lot to answer for

    Mrs Fly - I hope the trip plans are progressing.

    Do you think colonial advice worked universally?

    Leni - I had to leave the salesam slightly wounded - but it was worth it!

    Madame DeF - slowly coming back to earth

    Will - letting the bishop walk would've been the sensible option...

    Eryl - thanks again for that

    nursey - I love the sound of that bishop how did I guess that he'd be our type?

    Mr Red - I've only just learned but I can't keep my lips still yet.

  12. i'm late to this, but just finished ordering Ondaatje's book. actually, i've arranged a swap.

    thanks for this!

  13. Was v intrigued by the dak bungalow - and Mr Google found me this great post:

  14. Once agin my giggling is bouncing around this empty office.


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