RANDOM MUSINGS OF A SENILE MIND
“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven” Wordsworth: Preludes
In the Nineteen Forties and early Fifties, Bambalawatte was the centre of the universe. It was where all the meaningful action took place and where the principal actors were mainly Burghers and a group of expatriates drawn from half a dozen nationalities.
This was brought most forcibly to my mind after reading the recent obituaries which appeared in the local press – one to Zoe Jayatilleke by Tita Nathanielsz; the other to David Gladwin Loos , C.C.S.. by Bradman Weerakoon.
The two articles made reference to a host of distantly remembered persons who figured prominently in those halcyon days, persons who were just names to me but spoken of quite frequently by, or were known to, my younger aunts like Beryl and Aileen and older cousins such as Allanson, Rene, Noel and Inez.
Bradman Weerakoon in his appreciation of David Loos brought to mind a dozen or so distinguished young Burgher Civil Servants of that time. While David stood out as the “Adonis” in that constellation there were others equally note-worthy such as Neville Jansz, Anton Mc Heyzer, Donald Speldewinde, Raine Wright and someone whose Christian names alone made an indelible impression on my generation of Government Service collegues as we perused the old “Civil List” – Dirk Philippus Rutgert Paulusz.
In various ways they distinguished themselves during their period in the C.C.S., despite the fact that many left prematurely either to take up more lucrative appointments in the private sector or to seek their fortunes abroad. I am informed that even in today’s war-affected Vavuniya, a portrait of Donald Speldewinde continues to hold pride of place in the Kachcheri, while the MacHeyzer Stadium is still the main venue for sports in Trincomalee.
The persons referred to in the Zoe Jayatilleke obituary included Harry Nightingale, the swimming coach; Greg Roskowski; Rolf Sando Mirsky; Marjorie Sample; Dr. Justin “Dadda” Flamer-Caldera and his brood; Harry and Olga Koch;Stanley and Christobel Livera; ‘Budgie’ Metzeling; the Driebergs and the Felsinger sisters Jean and Miriam. Though not referred to, other names conjured up by association were Yvonne Gulam-Hussain (nee Toussaint); Dr Larry Foenander, Rodney Jonklaas and Trevor Oliver (Tod) Dias.
Associated with the above and what gave Colombo at that time a very cosmopolitan character was Yvonne Bradley, a dance instructress from England; Madame Maryse Fumet, a French cookery expert; Thelma Kai who taught Hawaiian dancing and the Hawaiian guitar; Rupert Wagn, a Dane who taught the piano; Frank Harrison, a ballroom dancing teacher from Australia and Gerd Von Dinklage, a German who was Sri Lanka’s pioneer spear-fisherman.. To these must be added Ms. Marjorie Sample and Mrs. Spencer Shepherd and the two earlier mentioned Poles, Greg Roskowski and Rolf Sando-Mirsky, the latter name also bringing to mind his preferred mode of transport- the Triumph Speed Twin on which he met his untimely death..
The scenes of much of the activities of the above named were the Otters Swimming Club; the B.R.C.., Colts Cricket Club, and the Havelock Rugger Club. Strangely the D.B.U. did not feature in their revels, being much too straight-laced for the likes of the above.
A major influence in fashioning this sub-culture was the newly created Commercial Service of Radio Ceylon, headed by Clifford Dodd and assisted by Livy Wijemanne, Bob Harvey and Norton Pereira. The last of that line of Mohicans, Jimmy Barucha passed away earlier this year, creating a great void in the lives of many people of my vintage. What great pleasure Jimmy gave my aunt Daisy and me in Mutwal every Saturday night with his radio programme “Melodies that Linger”: and his characteristic introduction to each singer – “Now approaching mike- side is………”
But this little microcosm of life could not withstand the political changes that rapidly swept Ceylon from the mid 1950s. Most of the people referred to emigrated to Australia, U.K. or Canada while some of the expatriates returned to their countries of origin. The process for me was completed when we no longer saw “Pinkie” Gerreyn and Johnny Ayscough trawling the streets of Bambalawatte, the former on his Harley-Davidson, the latter in his Standard 8 Tourer.
Like many an ageing Burgher, I bemoan the passing of that happy, innocent era when men wore lounge suits or, at least, long-sleeved shirts and cravats to the 6 o’clock film show at the Majestic and the Savoy and their ladies wore hats and gloves to evensong at the DRC Church, Arethusa Lane, Wellawatte.
But “ tempus fugit “ and all of us have to accept the necessary changes which time must inevitably bring . As Shakespare wrote –
“ Golden lads and girls all must ,
As chimney sweepers, come to dust.”