8 April 2013


"Excuse me sir. Where you from?"

I am at the magnificent  Royal Botanical Gardens of Sri Lanka in Peradeniya and a delightful sixteen year old schoolgirl has just accosted me. She is from a distant town and she is on a day trip with her school. Soon I am surrounded by about thirty of her classmates. Beautiful brown girls with teeth as white as their starched school dresses. They want my address. They want their photos taken with me. They want me to teach at their school. We laugh. We shake hands. We move on. The Empire is not dead after all.

I visit two cemeteries. One is the Second World War Cemetery maintained by two men who follow me around as I investigate the graves  The two guys do a brilliant job of  tending the beautiful graveyard. There are 107 British casualties of war, three Italians, a French chef, several Africans, a Jew, a couple of Canadians and about twenty Sri Lankans. Like all war cemeteries it is very sad and tears form in my eyes as I wander around humming a tune that always returns to me at such moments. I wish I could show you my pictures but I am using Shirley's little Nikon camera now and I am afraid I don't have a lead for downloading.

The second graveyard near the Temple of the Sacred Tooth in Kandy contains the remains of numerous nineteenth century British colonialists. One was killed by an elephant, another died from "severe diarrhea (sic)". It makes you wonder about such people. They travelled on sailing ships so far from home to begin coffee and tea plantations, to build an empire in something resembling outer space. In many ways, they must have been both brave and foolhardy. There were several dead children and young wives. It must have been so hard for them. The heat. The mosquitoes. The tropical ulcers and other unfamiliar diseases.

Earlier, I ate a wonderful lunch in DJ"s restaurant - Florida chicken salad - beautifully presented - and then negotiated a fare back to Kandy with a young tuk tuk driver who had impeccable manners, didn't even attempt to cheat me and ought to run special training courses for his rapacious, obnoxious  colleagues who are all clearly conspiring to pester the CENSORED out of me! Tuk tuk sir? Why you walk? Gimme your money honky! Tomorrow onwards to Dambulla.... and the cave temples. It feels so wonderful to be here. To be alive.


  1. Live, love, laugh.....not too shabby eh YP?

  2. I'm dying to know: what tune do you hum in those moments when you find yourself wandering around cemeteries? Dvorak's New World Symphony, perhaps? The White Cliffs of Dover? "Largo" from Xerxes? "Mademoiselle from Armentieres"? Inquiring minds want to know.

  3. So glad all is going well.

  4. "Honky"? I thought that term was just for white Americans, and used by black Americans. I don't see how a distinguished Englishman could be called a honky. I love it when, in your adventures, you run across polite children and well-tended public places. But it makes me wonder why it can't be that way everywhere. What has happened to our countries that we've lost these simple, important things?

  5. We'll look forward to seeing the pics when you get home. I'd forgotten about your drive-by grabbing.

    Just one thing: When you said "The Empire is not dead after all.", were you referring to yourself? A one-man Empire. A provocative notion, mr pudding!

  6. LIBBY Yes Woman's Libby, not too shabby at all.
    RHYMES WITH I don't know who wrote the tune. Maybe I made it up. It is a sort of lament and I imagine it being played on plaintive violins.
    HELEN Yes. I am too. There's always the possibility that something awful could happen.
    JAN BLAWAT We English have absorbed lots of American culture and language. Remember the Stones - "Honky Tonk Women"? And yes you are right about the children. They were genuinely delighted to make my acquaintance in an innocent and open manner.
    KATHERINE Not a one man empire but an emissary - just as when I visited the remote nad barbaric islands known as New Zealand. Bringing civilisation and decorum. It is one's duty ma'am.


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