Monday, February 18, 2013

Richard Briers – January 14th 1934 – February 18th 2013 – AKA Tom Good

A blast from the past Richard Briers has just died from complications of lung disease. His endearing memory for me was in the Good Life which since its inception for a 3 year series 1975 to 1978 was a TV series I followed with many repeats subsequently and shaped my desire for farming and self sufficiency in later life. Actually it was only 30 Episodes over 4 series only though and must have been repeated over and over so many times, one loses count. I am sure the whole set can now be purchased on DVD and no doubt one day I will settle down to watch them when I am ready to reminisce!! It was a series I could watch many times over with the same enthusiasm and he played a major role in its success.

Penelope Keith who he always delighted in rubbing up the wrong way, reinforced my prejudices of what living in Suburbia and keeping up with the Jones were all about, something I never wished to emulate.

I therefore mention this and remember the personality as a significant affect in my life overseas and contributed to my entertainment after a hard day’s work! There is British Humor and more of it, but it was one I thoroughly enjoyed and thank the producers for bringing such a memorable series to TV, which I feel is lacking in today’s programs.

Being able to make fun of run of the mill lives and bring in color of life outside of the norm, has been part of my lifestyle and therefore I identify with this program more than many and Richard Briers was an unforgettable face of that process.

Of course being out of that scene for so long, I had forgotten him and the program, and when I saw more recent photos of him, I could not recognize the person I had seen in those programs so long ago. That is a fact of life for household names, where people remember them for the sitcoms that they acted in and not the fact that like everyone we grow old and change in appearance.

The whole series just revolved round 4 people, the other two being Tom Good’s on screen wife Barbara, Felicity Kendal who had her own endearing personality (having grown up and being schooled in India) and Paul Eddington more of the Yes Minister fame rounding out the 4.

Thank you Richard (TOM) for giving me so many evenings of laughter after weary days of work and hours of driving home from places in different countries as it was also syndicated in the US where I subsequently went to live in.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Upali Wijewardene – plane went missing 30 years ago today

Whilst there are many theories about what happened, the one I stick to is the one that due to some malfunction in the Lear Jet he was in the pressure on the cabin malfunctioned and all the occupants became unconscious until the plane ran out of fuel as it was flying on autopilot and crashed into the sea. That is because there were three subsequent instances when it happened to Lear Jets including the death of a famous Golfer in one such incident.

There is also another theory that it was shot down by Indonesian missile mistaking it to be unauthorized. However that too is compatible with my original theory, that if it was being flown on auto-pilot with all on board unconscious, then it is likely that it had strayed into classified airspace, and hence the shooting resulted.

I was in the UK at the time, working as a Chartered Accountant in London for an international accounting firm, and recall being very upset about it and relieved at the same time that my father who frequently accompanies him was not on that flight at that time. My father would then have been 55, the same age I am now.

More than would be the case for others, Upali Wijewardene had a direct influence on our lives, as my father was his financial advisor, and unlike many professionals today, never invoiced/billed/charged him for his time and work, nor requested a retainer. His accounting firm performed many of the Accounting and Secretarial services at the time for the various group companies and coincidentally was Auditor of Kandos before Upali bought it. I remember going to the Kandos factory in Kundasale when I was schooling in Trinity, and used to come away with chunks of Chocolate courtecy of the then MD. That is another story.

My father’s personality was and still is, of getting enormous pleasure from anyone’s success, where if he was able to contribute to that in some way, that was payment enough. No wonder his life has touched the whole gammet of businessmen in Sri Lanka, with Sir Chittampalam Gardiner being his first client, when he ventured out on his own around in the early 1950s and he has just retired at the end of January 2013 when he reached his 85th year having been an adviser to Ajita de Zoysa of AMW and Associated Electricals, but latterly of Union Bank fame. My mother being a more rational human being, who was left to put food on the table, influenced Upali direct pay for me and my brother’s boarding school education in England as much as a decade previously. I know my whole annual school fees, boarding fees and incidentals did not amount to more than 1000 pounds, per annum, it was still a lot of money at the time, and my parents did not have that kind of money and in the middle of the Sirima Bandaranayake regime where one required an exit permit to leave Sri Lanka, was a luxury few people could indulge in.

In those days whenever my father came to the UK with Upali, after their business dealings in the City of London, (they always stayed at the London Hilton) and attendance at races at Ascot or Newmarket they used to drive up to Cambridge where I was at school and we would go to an Indian restaurant for a meal. Upali went to Queens College, Cambridge and so we walked around the Backs and into Queens on the off occasion.

Sometimes on their way to Newmarket for the races, or to meet Upali’s horse trainer, Robert Armstrong, Susan Piggot’s brother, they would drop into Cambridge for a short visit to see us, as it was only a few miles away and on route.

Robert Armstrong trained Upali’s horses in the UK and Susan Piggot’s husband Lester sometimes rode his horses. It was fun knowing that we had a Sri Lankan who could indulge in these typically Upper Class British pursuits.

Stories are abound of both his audacity of thinking big and achieving the impossible, but he also believed he would not live to a ripe old age, and therefore was in a hurry to things others would contemplate for before beginning.

His contribution as the First Director General of the Greater Colombo Economic Commission will be remembered as the precursor to the BOI and beginning of foreign investment in Sri Lanka that helped with the beginning of the economic take off we have experienced in Sri Lanka since.

It would therefore be safe to say that, but for Upali Wijewardene, my life would have been very different. I cannot say if it would have been better or worse, but definitely not as varied and adventurous as it has been.

I knew the person more than many alive today, and he was a chain smoking effusive personality who always found every incident a matter for a good laugh!

Just for the record, I would like to mention the ties we have had to various generations of the Wijewardenes, where my Grandfather HAJ was both an Editor of the Ceylon Daily News, and the Observer for DR Wijewardene’s Lake House working directly under the big man, whilst my grand aunt, HAJs elder sister was married to the DR’s eldest brother. In turn in the next generation, my father Upatissa worked with Upali for very many years. In turn I am now with DR’s grandson Ruwan Wijewardene MP as a coordinating secretary.

None of these things in life are planned or predictable, and they happen by chance. However these chance encounters are for purposes which we cannot foresee and only time will tell after the fact on its consequence.

I am sure that Upali will be looking at us today and having a great laugh at the unpredictable outcomes of peoples and personalities he left behind, and hoping that one day a Wijewardene would again have a profound positive impact on the prosperity of Sri Lanka in the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

An appreciation – Asanka Mudalali 1953 – 2013

We go through our life and meet people, who become our friends and others who though never become personal friends, where one would invite them for a party, are nevertheless part and parcel of one’s life, sometimes more genuine than friends. This was the case of Asanka Mudalali, whose real name I only read on the banner when I arrived to pay my last respects. Today is his funeral at the Godagama Cemetery.

He would have been 60 in September, but on February 9th he got into a smaller vehicle of his, went to the Moragahahena area near Horana, parked his vehicle and went into a nearby forest took some poison and killed himself. He must have wriggled in pain while the poison worked itself in the body, as was seen on the marks on his face touched up. His body was discovered a day later.

Over 25 years ago, he had a small Austin lorry and he transported the remains of a dismantled house on Dickman’s Road to my farm from which part of my and many homes in the area were built, by my father’s generosity of giving people doors and windows with frames, roof tiles and whatever that could be of use if people wanted. At that time he was the only man in town with a lorry in the area who we could rely on for such transport.

He was a self made man, who through sheer hard work built himself a thriving hardware business, and tippers and heavy machinery for transport of soil and building materials. He expanded his shop, purchased adjoining land and across on the High Level Road about half KM from the Panagoda Army Camp. He managed to marry his two daughters off, with the assets he was able to settle on them, and brought up a son, who turns out to be a wastrel, indulging in most of life’s indulgences, from alcohol, tobacco, gambling and seems to have wasted a small fortune along the way. We do not know the real reason he committed suicide, but I suspect most of it had to do with the son, and his wasteful ways, constantly having to pay up to retrieve vehicles and pawned goods from the bailiff. Interestingly he was not to be seen around at the funeral house, preferring to be inside in a room, unable to face the stream of visitors from far and wide, and when I went between 10pm and 12pm there were over 150 at the house at the back of the store.

He was always humble, and one could see him shoveling sand into his tippers a few days before his death, and whenever I passed his shop, and saw him at the counter from the road, never failed to stop and have a chat, and buy something I needed be it just a adapter plug or a tape measure. Recently, I was in the habit of assuring him that our nightmare political situation will see a transformation and a new dawn, and he always wished me well in my new endeavors. I always assured him right will eventually triumph over wrong and one just needed a little patience. I just think his patience had just run out.

I had anyway in the past purchased all my building materials from him when I built my shop and did various renovations and repairs around the house, and over the years could have topped a million or two. However he was always very reasonable with his prices, as compared with his nearby competitors, and he never failed to fetch an item he did not have in his shop from elsewhere asking me to come in a few hours to pick up. There was NEVER a question for me as to who I would go in the first instance if I needed any building materials or hardware store items. I am now in a quandary as I know there will not be the same pleasure in doing business there anymore.

So sitting at the funeral house, talking to people from the area, his generosity and assistance seem to be legendary. Many were those who related instances of him giving items at cost, and even though there was a board clearly saying not to ask for credit, did in fact give items on credit on a nod, not on a note book we had to sign off. His personality seems to have touched so many people, which I do believe even his family were probably unaware of. I think it is that streak in him, that was a genuinely nice personality that endeared him to so many and helped in get such a regular clientele.

Many were the instances he would say he did not carry the particular item, and asked us to go to the competitor close by, where we knew we would be gouged, but he had the stuff! Interestingly when I was there his competitor came to pay his respects, looking very upset, but I wonder if he realizes how much business Asanka sent him!

Then the local three wheel driver was telling me, how a few times, he sent him on his three wheel, to get some items for customers, because he had run out of them, and he had sold the items to the customer, at prices lower that what the three wheel driver had bought them for, not even taking into account the three wheel hire that had to be paid for going to purchase the item out of stock.

With these stories talked about by the locals, his death at such a young age, where he seemed quite hail and hearty full of energy and life, has come as a shock to the community. I think we are all in shock, and I took three of my staff that night to the funeral house, and how they had individual stories they had to relate, as they all knew this man personally. One of them did confirm that he had said how much trouble his son was to him, and how he has helped get him out of many financially damaging instances. The son’s friends are all friends when alcohol flows freely. They seemed strangely absent at the funeral house though.

His wife, like him is a simple and modest lady, and I trust she can cope with this loss, with the memory that he touched so many people, and hope it will inspire more to his genuine human qualities that are fast disappearing in today’s world.

May his soul finally Rest in Peace and may he travel in his journey towards the Ultimate bliss unhindered from worldly matters.