A different point of view

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse (left) shares a joke with skipper Mahela Jayawardene, and Kumar Sangakkara during the official opening of the Galle International Cricket Stadium.-AP Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse (left) shares a joke with skipper Mahela Jayawardene, and Kumar Sangakkara during the official opening of the Galle International Cricket Stadium.

“We are sad for three years, but now the weather is fine, the British are back and we can smell prosperity once again,” says Ted Corbett’s new-found friend, who makes a precarious living around the Fort in Galle.

December 17: As we are in the middle of a landmark Test in Galle I hand the old diary to The Limp, a lad of perhaps 50 summers who makes a precarious living around the Fort, encouraging tourists to visit his master’s shop or take a little refreshment in the right cafe while he fills the air with chatter about this historic site or that old building. Like everyone else in Galle he witnesses the tsunami — long ago in Liverpool it is difficult to meet anyone who does not give John Lennon a clip round the ear a few years earlier — and shows us how the waves sweep through two tunnels in the Fort to unleash its violent temper on thousands of innocents. “We are sad for three years,” he says, “but now the weather is fine, the British are back and we can smell prosperity once again.” Then he finds me a taxi driver who will take me from the hotel to the ground at half the price normally charged to foreigners — and brings me an umbrella when we are caught in the rain — which helps our trip a great deal.

December 18: The Limp writes: Our President comes to reopen the International Stadium on the eve of the third Test, which means every suspicious person — that is to say the whole media corps, all grumbling about the delay, every motorist, tourist, local fan, moped rider, tractor driver, road sweeper, television engineer trying to rig his equipment — has to take five. To be fair, the big man leaves approximately on time and appears to give me a special wave from his 4WD. I am very proud of that wave, just as I am very happy to be around after the great tsunami ruins the town where I live all my life. For the last three years people like me struggle to make an honest rupee; there are no tourists to help, the goods are only just coming back into the shops and we wonder if the happy times will ever return. So thanks to all those cricket lovers and the Barmy Army for giving us hope again. Of course, the President has to be protected and his securitymen rake through every piece of electronic wizardry just in case it happens to contain a nasty surprise and somehow omit to put things back in a tidy manner. Outside, the ground is a building site, water, seating and electricity are not always in place and there are more questions than answers about the pitch although both sides agree to play whatever the conditions. In the middle of the mess the media centre is palatial, but what about the poor guys who stand up all day even if it costs only a few rupees. Maybe the President will put all that injustice right. He gives me a lovely wave, sir, so I imagine he is a considerate man.

December 18: Mr. Corbett says I must not mention his teeth because he thinks you good readers will become bored but anyway I help him find a Chinese dentist whose business is badly hurt by the tsunami because it is so close to the cricket ground. Now he is back at work and doing very nicely, he says. But I notice he is now renting premises at the top of the shopping mall and no longer on the ground floor as he is until three years ago.

December 19: Next we go to a tiny cafe where another businessman is thriving. He returns from the United States soon after the tsunami hits, buys up a ruined shop and is now a rich man. Taking advantage? Well, it happens and I guess you can call it initiative. He happens to be the cousin of Lasith Malinga although he is a bit old to have yellow tips to his hair.

December 20: In return for my help in showing him all the sites of the tsunami, the new petrol station, the clocks still showing the moment the giant wave hit and everything within the Fort, Mr. Corbett arranges a tour of the media centre. First he takes me to the BBC radio studios where there are many stranger sights than I can show him. One guy is singing to the people who — as I understand it — are still sleeping back in Britain, another produces a bottle of champagne to celebrate his birthday and a third has an electric tennis racquet which he uses to kill mosquitoes. What a strange idea. We manage to exterminate these nasty little creatures by banging our hands together and my feeling is that in the days of global warming all this man is doing is adding to the environmental problem. Besides, this device is not very effective. By the end of my stay in their box the BBC appear to have more mosquitoes than ever. Perhaps he is not killing them but sub-dividing them. Still, it is a nice toy and this gentleman is even talking of taking one home as a Christmas present.

December 21: “You are evidence of the continued existence of serendipity,” says Mr. Corbett when I take him to a parade, mainly of school children even though there are one or two decorated elephants. He loves this island of mine. “Look,” he says as we drive out into the country. “That coach has broken down and the passengers are helping to push it. In Australia I once travel on a city bus that has an accident and all the passengers get off and tell the driver: ‘Sorry, mate you are on your own now.’” The Australians must be very strange people. I hear they all live near the coast. What will happen if a tsunami hits their land?

December 22: We sit down for a meal and at the next table two English supporters are talking. “I love going to Lord’s,” says one. “It is the greatest ground in the world.” The other shakes his head. “I hate Lord’s,” he says. “I prefer going abroad to watch cricket. At Lord’s if I try to fly my flag which proves I am a fan of Luton Town Football Club, the security guys make me take it down. Here I can fly it as much as I like.” Well, I am glad he likes Sri Lanka, but what sort of fan is it who wants to take a football club flag into Lord’s? There are clearly also some very strange people in England too.

December 23: So it’s farewell to my helpful limping friend, farewell to the Teardrop Island, farewell to cricket. It’s been a great life and I hope you enjoy all the characters in these columns over the last 15 years. Remember Geoff Boycott’s cat and Dean Jones’ toothbrush? It has been fun for me to relate the ups and mostly downs of England; now it is time to smell the roses, watch the game on TV and wonder how fares the world beyond cricket. Goodbye.