Just across the bridge in what some people think is “never-never land”; i.e. the Port City Colombo, there are people who have dreams, aspirations and a vision. One such person is Ineke. I have known her for twenty years, for many on the island she is known as the “horse lady”. She has lots of passion for horses and brings joy to so many people including more than 400 kids whilst running her Horse-Riding Stables, Ceylon Riding Club out near Piliyandala. Ineke has taken the big step to bringing all her energy and business acumen to set up and run the Ceylon Riding Club at Port City on a plot of three and a half acres of land close to the sea and the beach with an amazing breeze. Today there is a large shed and no horses; but soon she will have a full-blown equestrian centre with an array of horses. The site will have experienced professionals to give the club members and guests a true international horse experience. There will be a coffee shop and at some point in the future, a restaurant, bar and a members’ club.

The concept was unveiled to a delight crowd in early July and the ceremony was attended by many friends, current and future riders, customers and some dignitaries, these included but not limited to Dr Sinharaja T.D., who’s a renowned writer, historian and award-winning film Director, Mrs. Charu Thewathantri, who’s a Gratien Prize winning author and parent of horse-riders, Dr Ananda is Director of IUCN and Mr. Damith Pallewatte, the Deputy General Manager, HNB.

There were some special guests including Nigel Austin, (Previously Racehorse owner) Amanda Abeyweera, (Horse Breeder) Nihara Jayathilake, (Previous RTC President) Suranji Jayakodi, (Race horse owner) Rashmin Tirimanne de Silva, (Showjumper) Archi Jagdeesh, (Show jumper and Instructor) Keith Brown, (Show jumper, instructor and horse trainer) plus a big contingent from loyal members and friends of CRC.

The Monarch Group meets up for an evening at Sugar Bistro, Crescat Shopping Mall. The deck, or as they say in New Zealand the “dick” has a lovely bar and we have a breezy night to catch up and share our stories since we last met. Golden rule ……we don’t want to spend the night whinging about the state of the country and who is responsible for the major crisis. The wine flows and we have a whole raft of bites. The smartly dressed staff hover but are not intrusive, just there when you want something. A young man plays guitar and sings an array of songs from the latest hits, movies to the seventies. As with all Monarch group get togethers, some of the team have a bit of a sing along.

So, the night of chatter and music rolls on with some great canapés and bites. The chicken pâté is outstanding and reminds me of when I used to cook back in the UK. My favourite starter was chicken pate, flavored with whisky or brandy and I’m sure ‘Sugar’ dropped some alcohol in this tasty snack. It’s late but the good news is the Monarch crowd are only a three-minute walk to their apartment entrance. With no likely chance of a tuk tuk or taxi in these petrol starved days, Jezzabel and I stretch our legs and anticipate a fourteen-minute walk to our new home opposite the Port City.

The Whinging Pome Random Rule No. 248:

“Great nights out are on your doorstep, in walking distance, leave the car and stress at home”

https://www.facebook.com/sugarbistroandwinebar

This newly opened up-end Chinese restaurant situated on Duplication Road in the Astoria complex is worth checking out. Felicia Sorensen of renowned cuisine fame takes us to the restaurant where she has already been and has a rapport with one of the Sri Lankan owners. Another owner is Chinese which is a great asset for a Chinese restaurant. I’m not such a fan of the Astoria complex; the retail and other services provided, but this gem of a restaurant is worth a try.

The flamboyant and well-traveled ex-chef and writer on food, Felicia, selects our courses. We start with the black fungus and deep-fried prawn balls, stir-fried beef, and chicken fried rice, however, I order the braised eggplant. I’ve never tasted such amazing Chinese food; “it’s at a different level” as one of my close friends would say.

Felicia’s book – The Exotic Taste of Paradise

It happens to be Jezzabel’s and my one day of the month without alcohol, the target had been four days a month but we have not reached utopia yet. You can bring your own wine to this restaurant but there is a corkage.

We try to get a cab having given up on Kangaroo cabs. We also try to book an Uber or Pickme but again no car available. A bright young supervisor wearing a brown suit tries hard to get us a cab, but nothing doing. He is also telling of his struggle to get back to Australia to finish his master’s degree. However, he is a man on a mission, and doesn’t give up, he is out on the street with the security staff stopping every tuk-tuk till he secures one for us.

The Whinging Pome Random Rule No. 247:

“Always appreciate people who go the extra mile, give them encouragement.”

Not the cheapest Chinese I’ve been to, not the most expensive either, but would say the best Chinees meal I’ve had outside of China. The art is knowing what to select and trying the house specialties.

Every day we are in Colombo, we try and do a walk down the Galle Face Green and the waterfront development area. (see story: Walking tours around Colombo’s highlights and history with The Whinging Pome) Then we return after an hour’s walk and meet our Monarch coffee crowd in the Cinnamon Grand. This has been going on for years.

Seventeen years ago, however, I was living in Rajagiriya and had an invitation to come to “24 hours of indulgence” and stay in the newly refurbished rooms at the Cinnamon Grand. About two hundred couples stood in the large atrium, where we were asked to pick a key out of a basket. I initially thought this was some sort of wife swapping event.

Rohan Karr, the general manager and the CEO of Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts, began a shortish but well-structured speech. He explained that they had set a date on which they would open the new look of the hotel and all his team believed it was achievable. This was the date but Rohan went on to say that the rooms were not all fully finished, yet all are sufficiently refitted for us to have an enjoyable weekend. He also said, “Each room may have teething issues and we hope you will manage without complaining/whinging.” This was the launch of the new Cinnamon brand and we attended a cocktail, a gala dinner; followed by a champagne breakfast, brunch and high tea on the next day.

What a memorable event; excellently executed.

So, seventeen years later we stop at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel for four nights. The wing we are in has just had a refit, is well equipped and we have a great view of two swimming pools. This is a treat for Jezzabel and I as the “ten-year itch” has kicked in and we are moving home. We will still only be a fourteen-minute walk away from the hotel.

The Whinging Pome Random Rule No. 277

“Embracing change, creating challenges and new adventures is about making the most of life rather than waiting to see what comes your way.”

Jezzabel and I have a soft spot for the Cinnamon Grand Hotel, no not the beds; we have always felt at home there. We were in Japan during the Easter bombings and we were so saddened by all the news, especially about those in the hotel, some of whom we had known for many years.

Twenty years ago, I recall taking the whole lobby of the hotel for a massive wine event, I recall the Xmas events, crazy big bashes in the ballroom, weddings, training sessions, Rotary Club meetings and some weeks ago I did a Guinness night at Cheers! So many good times.

Part of me will always be at the Cinnamon Grand

I had never been a big fan of cricket. As a kid in Zambia, we played French cricket where your legs act as stumps and you use a softball with fielders/bowlers standing in a circle around you. Fast forward to March 1996, I happened to be in Sri Lanka on a business development trip, and yes you guessed right, the country came to a standstill on the 17th of March. The big game was on, the Cricket World Cup, it was in Lahore but I watched it with friends on TV at the Colombo Swimming Club. The Attack was led by “Mad Max” Aravinda De Silva playing in the middle order and Sanath Jayasuriya starting strong, the entire team “did the needful”. I have never seen a whole country celebrate in such a way.

Since then, having taken up residency in Sri Lanka 20 years ago, I’ve been to many cricket grounds and watched many games on-site and at city venues, such as the Cricket Club Cafe and Inn on the Green. I recall England struggling in a limited overs match in which Mahela Jayawardena bowled and the ball was caught behind by Sangakkara, the batsman was out . A great quiz question.

Having established an appetite for the game, I watch as much as possible, especially international games, world championships and limited over games. New Zealand vs England in 2019, with a dramatic ending, was one of the best matches I have watched, albeit on TV.

Cricket has a new lease of life. I am waiting for someone to revolutionize the game of golf, as has been done to cricket. Make it a shorter, more exciting game of say 2 hours with a larger number of people being able to play and watch. Golf players are dropping in numbers due to how much time you need to do a full round of Golf, how expensive it is and the lack of space. I think the Victoria Golf Club in Kandy has just scrapped my handicap.

The most-watched cricket in the world is the IPL [Indian Premier League] that started in 2008, with 20 overs and Indian players teaming up with top cricketers of other nationalities. For me this is the fastest, most exciting cricket played today. The competition is played once a year with about 60 games and 8 teams, all well sponsored.

As an Englishman in my adopted home of Sri Lanka, it’s hard to talk of the performance of England cricket today. Reduced performances result in reduced spectators and TV demand dropping; this is leading to low morale among the team. Some key players currently in India are performing well in a different environment. Some say there is a massive racism concern in English cricket, immigrants represent 33% of recreational cricket and local and county clubs whilst only 4% of the English cricket team are non-English origin. 

So soon the Australian cricket team are coming to Sri Lanka and we all hope they bring lots of supporters with them. They may need to bring some fuel for the coaches also. I’ll be there watching the games, wearing my Sri Lankan shirt, the wife will be next to me with her Aussie shirt on, but likely asleep.

We hear from Texas, 21 people killed,19 of them kids in yet another mass shooting in the USA. I start another day with a heavy heart and tears in my eyes and I don’t know a single victim and I’ve never been to Texas. I did a video back in 2019 about on the crazy situation of gun shootings in the USA, see below.

You always think there will be change in gun controls after a shooting, especially in a school. Impacted people and lobby groups can’t penetrate the political support for the current gun laws or the power of the gun producers. So, nothing happens. I heard one gun supporting politician arguing that if 18 year old’s fought for American independence [1775 to 1783] with rifles they should be able to have guns at 18 today. No logic at all.

It appears there is legislation likely to be passed in some states further relaxing gun ownership in the USA. What a crazy bunch of people running this country. Shootings they say are 52% up year on year in 2021, 30% of Americans own guns.

‘Preventable but predictable’ is one statement made by a father who lost his child in a school shooting some years earlier and interviewed on TV today.

This week an 18-year-old in full body armour shoots his grandma and then goes on a rampage at a school Killing 21 people. The 18-year-old shooter bought the gun officially and legally, yet in this state you have to be 20 years of age to drink in a public place. Over 129 children have been killed in shootings in USA schools in twenty years. There have been 12 shootings in schools in this year, 549 shooting incidents in schools in six years. The aftermath of these killings has a massive impact on families and the community. The scars last a lifetime.

Whilst I actually title this short write up as it only happens in the USA, according to some research I’ve done since the shooting in Texas, I found that there was school shooting in Stirling Scotland. In 1996 the shooter killed 16 children and a teacher; it was the deadliest shooting in British history. The outcome was a massive reform of gun law in Great Britain. No private guns to be held by individuals with the exception of ownership of shotguns that could kept, be with a separate set of terms and conditions. Within weeks of the recent shooting in New Zealand at which 51 Muslim were gunned down; the Government changed the gun laws within weeks and month progressively.

I’m not whinging; I’m just emotional about the shooting of kids and the apathy for change in a country that has 110+ gun deaths a day.

Having lived here in Colombo for over two decades, I’m always looking for new places to go. One evening some months ago I was invited to the Monarch apartment poolside, for dinner. To my surprise, I’m attending a Serbian Orthodox New Year dinner on the 13th of January. A number of people arrive, armed with trays of food. I meet the lovely Milica for the first time, although we both live in the Monarch apartments, she is doing the food for the event. What shocked me was that she had been running a restaurant in Colombo for 14 years and I had never heard of it.

A week or so after the Monarch pool party, we head for the restaurant on Bagatale Road. It has an outdoor seating area, a fast takeaway area, and a two-level indoor restaurant.

Whinging Pome’s Random Rule No 244

“When eating in Rome, let the Romans choose the food”

So, we let Milica select for us and we enjoy massive plates of roast vegetables, cured, grilled and roasted meats, and European sausages. Serbian food has a strong Turkish influence. There is an array of amazing sweets. Milica also has a big following for her decorative cakes. Not only does she ship them across Sri Lanka but also to other countries. In fact, at one time, she had three locations in Sri Lanka and built a large home delivery business. Some of you may recall the rather larger mega survey the Whinging Pome did on coffee in Colombo, titled “The Colombo Coffee Awards” back in 2020. Had I known about Mitsi and their Coffee back then, she would likely be a contender for the top coffee in the city. We have been back quite a few times to her restaurant and enjoyed the great food, Mohamed the lively fun waiter and Dejan, the Serbian chef who manages such a comprehensive menu, and of course the madam of the house.

Funny how most mornings during my morning walk now I see Milica smartly dressed as she is off to walk to the restaurant. Mitsi, I’m reliably informed, is the name given to a Cabaret singer in some Central European countries. I decided to find out more about this amazing lady so we had a one-hour interview. She is from Belgrade and has been an air steward. Even as a child she tells me she was very focused on home-grown business acumen. In her early teens, she rented her family’s modest country house in the former Yugoslavia which was under the communist regime. She forgot to tell her dad the house was being used as a temporary church; which was a bit difficult in those days. She has run many different businesses in her 20 years in this country, which she loves and has had so many positive experiences here with her sister who has been here for 30 years.

So, if you haven’t been to Mitsi’s restaurant on Bagatalle road, put it on your list, ring and order one of her famous cakes or drop by for a coffee. If you run into a noisy group of diners on the upper floor it’s likely to be the Monarch group, who have adopted it as a 2nd dining base.

Sent to me by a concerned citizen –

As the country’s thugs ran amok at the Galle Face Green in Colombo beating peaceful protesters; the police watched on doing NOTHING. Sri Lankan democracy stands at a crossroads. Who are these thugs? They are said to be sent in with the gift of alcohol and money (5000 rupees per day) by supporters of the failing government to create havoc. They set fire to tents and stages and scream like drunken buffoons whilst beating people who get in their way. It is a ploy to create a military lockdown, so the existing shambolic people running the country can stay in power? Our children, parents, families and friends are out there…

The country has had major shortages of food, gas, and electricity whilst the politicians have stolen billions of dollars which are now resting in their foreign accounts and companies.

The lawyers are in the streets keeping the agitated protesters from retaliating and the voice of freedom will surely win through. The protesters take peaceful control of the streets as we await the response from the police/army. Yet again the people in power have misjudged the situation whilst their thugs run for cover and go to catch their buses back to their homes. The busloads of thugs get stuck in the traffic and protesters smash the buses, not so much the occupants.

For those who have sat back and not participated in this struggle for democracy and freedom from an ageing political dynasty, it’s time to get out there or support in some way further change.

When over a dozen innocent French people were murdered in France in 2015 for a cartoon they published, 1.6 million French came out on the street within days. People marched with their grandparents, their children and perfect strangers in protests down the key streets of Paris. All in an orderly manner. In 2018, the Armenians ousted a corrupt political regime in 25 days by marching and gathering in the capital. They blocked roads by having sit down sessions. They had the biggest gathering of people in the Republic Square in the history of the country. The Tunisian Revolution, also known as the Jasmine Revolution took people to the streets for 28 intensive days which resulted in ousting of the longtime unpopular president.

My observation of where Sri Lanka is today is there is much apathy, especially in the middle class and those of wealth and in big business. Are they scared the situation will get worse? Well of course it will. For too many years the fat cats have enjoyed their comforts, lifestyles, and good standard of living. Some have enjoyed prestigious positions working with a corrupt government and some have gained from bribery and corruption. All this taking place when the average man in the street has become poorer and working extra hard to feed his family. Many can only dream of ever becoming “working class”.

Those citizens with a reasonable understanding know what’s been going on in the country for years. No doubt it’s been the topic of discussion at many a meal, party or in the comfort of some upper-end social club. We know that the country has been systemically stripped, assets stolen or sold off, huge commissions paid, but no “wind of change”.

Many of those parents whose children are working abroad are not likely to see them return to this paradise island unless there is change. They may come on holiday but will generally not stay as they live in countries with a healthy democracy, and fairness and are safe. How much talent have we lost, how much more will we lose if we don’t take action now?

The time has come, you are not alone, the current situation is not one ever faced by the people of this country. We must at this stage continue with our non-violent stance but be prepared to have sit down strikes, and further marches at the key locations. This is only going to work if we have large numbers of people on the streets.

For the future of this country and its children who deserve our support, we have to rise and be more active. In Armenia when the country’s President met the head of the movement for change, he asked what he wanted. The leader of the people said he came to obtain the President’s resignation. The whole process took less than 28 days.

Perhaps we have to rely on the youth because they are proving that religious or financial status, colour, dress and politics have been dividers of the country since independence, but not anymore. We are also seeing the lawyers coming forward to support the youth and those the political regime wants to shut up.

It’s important to get the major “takers/corrupt” out of the country, I’m happy if they all go to Uganda. So, work out what you can do and what you will say when your children and friends ask you, “how did you contribute to the peaceful revolution in Sri Lanka?” You are not alone!

Like many responsible people in Sri Lanka, I have joined the rallies and demonstrations against the current political regime, asking to stop the widespread corruption and asking where all Sri Lanka’s money has gone. It is predominately the youth of this country I see at these events. What I also see is people from across the social religious and ethnic divide.

Muslims breaking fast and sharing food with perfect strangers, young white-robed priests carrying their Sri Lankan flags, families showing their young children one of the basic forms of democracy, protesting in a civilized nonviolent manner, individual protesters standing with the poster in silence and in solitude despite the masses around them, the patriotic flag waving, the more boisterous shouts “GO HOME GOTA” doesn’t go unnoticed.

What is also noticeable is how many ladies are out there, most just as vocal as their men. There are people handing out buns and water, I’m given a banner to hold up, it’s in Sinhalese; translated, it means we are all people of Sri Lanka, be we Muslim, Tamil, Sinhalese, or anyone who loves this country and its people. The Tamil boy next to me says he can’t read my signboard but he is glad I’m there.

Having lived in Sri Lanka for about twenty years, I have never seen such unity, such responsive people, passion for their country flag and for the future of their country. There is no doubt the message is pertinent to the current seniors of the country who need to adopt a similar approach, i.e. common goals for the good of the people.

I observe a man with a child and a small speaker sitting on the steps of the statue in front of the Shangri-La. He is playing music as a protest. The song I hear is from the Scorpions, a band founded in Germany back in 1965. It’s called “winds of change”, which is about political climate change and was later used during the struggle in Germany and finally when the wall came down.

♫ Take me to the magic of the moment
On a glory night
Where the children of tomorrow dream away
In the wind of change
The wind of change

Like a strong wind that will ring the freedom bell♫

Ironically I had never heard of the Scorpions till twenty-odd years ago having arrived in Sri Lanka and spent time going around the clubs, so many local bands played it in Sri Lanka. I could not translate the sign the man had propped up but the music and the moment will always be with me.

We can all imagine how the numerous individuals involved in serious corruption are looking over their shoulders or checking their WhatsApp to see if their ill-gotten assets, homes or deals are becoming more and more in the public arena. Perhaps we should float the idea of a moratorium. Spill the beans of those corrupt deals you are aware of and get immunity against prosecution for information. The corruption is so widespread that it’s likely better to focus on politicians (all parties) and the mega-fixers.

Sri Lanka has an amazing opportunity, perhaps the biggest since independence to create a modern and all-inclusive political structure, devolve or diminish the presidential role, cut the number of parliamentary ministers by at least 50% and create real long-term policies on areas like education, development, health, etc.

Now the skeptics, fat cats and corrupt families will say this is impossible. We may not have enough funds to keep the country afloat for the next month. I do suspect the main motivation of these groups is to keep the status quo. We however have to have that vision of what can be and how Sri Lanka can move upward.

How much has been stolen, we will never know. Whatever the amount it would have saved the country from the state it is now in, but perversely it was part of the nucleus for change and embarrassment for many.

So whatever the timetables the wind of change has started in Sri Lanka and the younger generation will have their day. We will still have a brain drain in the next few years, we need a place our educated youngsters can grow in. For me, like one of the old men on the balcony of the Muppets show, I will always have something to shout and whinge about. The difference is I want to be part of the future, I may have a British passport but my heart and feet will always be here.

One of Britain’s most famous personalities known for his speeches and more so for leading the drive to win the second world war is Winston Churchill. He was a poor student and only aspired to learn subjects like history and English. It took him three attempts to get into ‘Royal Military Academy’ at Sandhurst and that was in the lowest category, the cavalry. He became a hero in South Africa during the Boer War, he was also the man who sent over 250,000 soldiers to their deaths in a disastrous initiative in Gallipoli in 1915 WW1. It was an attempt to take Turkey out of the war. He was however an amazing wartime Prime Minister. “Cometh the hour cometh the man” in WW2.

“Although prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it be postponed

– Sir Winston Churchill –

He was awarded honorary citizenship in the USA in 1963, though his mother was actually an American citizen anyway. John F Kennedy attended the proceedings. Winston’s father was an English Lord. Winston was a Nobel Prize winner for literature and developed a love of painting. He had a wit that resulted in a host of quotes and incidents.

“We are all worms but I believe I am a glow-worm”

– Sir Winston Churchill –
Sir Winston Churchill

Winston was extremely accident-prone; crashed a plane before it even took off, had a number of car accidents, fell off of numerous horses and was believed to have dyslexia and glossophobia. i.e. Fear of public speaking.

Despite his heroic wartime leadership he failed in being a peacetime leader and lost his first post-war general election. He bought the house called Chartwell close to Westerham in Kent where he lived for forty years and until his death in 1965. Previously, given massive debts, he had gifted/sold the house to The National Trust. He is buried in Bladen in the family’s village churchyard. The history of the site goes back to the 1360s.

I lived for a number of years close to Westerham and enjoyed touring his home and reading stories of this colorful hero who should never be forgotten.

“There is no such thing as public opinion. There is only published opinion”

– Sir Winston Churchill –
Chartwell House