The world is full of different characters, akin to different shades of flowers, birds or even fish that add colour and meaning to life. Otherwise the life will completely be a boring game altogether. Bandia column would like to concentrate on a bit of eccentricity that was witnessed by all the staff at the Sri Lanka High Commission in London, some years ago, as revealed by Bandia himself. Taking the liberty of publishing such a story in this manner is certainly not to take the piss out of the diplomats or to make fun out of them, but to show to what extent some of the Sri Lankan diplomats have been eccentric or comical in using their presence of mind at times. The idea, therefore, is only to bring some laughter to the readers, but by no means laughing at the gentlemen but laugh with them – bless their souls.
Those who have visited the Sri Lankan High Commission at 13 Hyde Park Gardens in London will have a photographic memory of the library room on the ground floor, where as one enters through the main doors and turn right from the reception area, a large room adjacent to the stairway exists. This room was used as a library for some time to store valuable historical manuscripts and books, but due to the lack of office space it was later occupied by two of the for junior diplomats of first secretary grade as they assumed their duties in London for the first time.
Seated behind an outsized table, near a bay window from where the famous Hyde Park Gardens could be seen, two first secretaries, ‘Wolley’ and ‘Abey’ used this library as their office intermittently. The door to the ‘ library room’ was always kept closed thus preventing any free entry of visitors to the High Commission building. Both ‘Wolley’ and ‘ Abey” had their individual peculiarities in some form, but as human beings, they were extremely kind hearted and obliging type gentlemen who had seen London for the first time, having joined the overseas service for their first appointment as diplomats.
‘ Abey’ was well known for his eccentricities, yet he was always had a sympathetic heart and was willing to extend a helping hand within his capacity to any one, officially or otherwise. ‘ Wolley’, on the other hand being a bachelor was a smart and a bit frisky type. They had their own weaknesses along with their unusual compulsive behavior. Consequently, they earned a nick name the ‘Raigamaya’and Gampolaya’ within the High Commission staff.
One particular obsession ‘Abey’ suffered from was to repeat a set of words all the time automatically, without giving much thought to what he was uttering. It had at one time become an amusement factor among the staff that he was known as Mr. “ Come…..! Come …..!! Come …..!!!, Sit…..! Sit……….!! Sit………!!!, Good! ……..Good…….!! Good” …….!!!
Whenever there was a knock on his office closed door, he came out with his catch phrase “Come ….! Come…..!! Come….!!. As the person entered the room, he greeted the person with a smile and with a hand gesture used to say “Sit ….. Sit…… Sit.., as part of his mantra and half way through the conversation he still continued by saying ‘good….good……good’
It was a well-known fact among the staff at the High Commission that he never listened to what the other person had to say whenever he was busy and concentrating on his work, yet he invited the person who knocked on his office door and made him sit in front of him.
So, when his secretary or any other member of staff approached him, while he was busy, he did not pay much attention to what was being spoken by the other person as his thoughts were on whatever he was doing, but simultaneously not being rude he pretended to be listening to whatever the person had to say , while partly listenting to the visitor and continueing with his mantra by saying in parrot fashion “Good ….! Good…!! Good” . Only after a few seconds when the penny dropped only he would seriously come to the point saying, “sorry what did you say…?
One particular morning just after 9 am, as the staff started to arrive at the office, his secretary ‘Phil’ was in a somber mood as she had received a phone call from her neighbor to give the most stressful news in her life about her nephew committing suicide by jumping out of a window from an upper floor flat where he lived.
Cool as Cucumber
Unsettled Secretary was weeping from the moment she heard about this perturbing news and rushed straightaway to see her boss to tell him about the tragedy, and kept on knocking on Abey’s door impatiently. As usual Abey responded with his famous phrase, loud and clear, “come…. come….. come”…… . and attended to whatever he was doing at the Time, without even looking at her. As as she entered the room, he signaled her to sit by saying, “sit….sit….sit” ……. Obviously his thoughts were on whatever he was concentrating while his secretary went to say what she heard from her neighbor. While still concentrating on what he was doing Abey continued with his rattling “ good….good…good,” but when he heard Phil sobbing only, he raised his head and saw his secretary’s somber facial countenance and tears that were pouring down on her face like a waterfall. Soon realising the blunder he made, immediately sympathised with her granted leave and extended all the assistance she required for her nephew’s funeral.
His predecessor, ‘wolley’ was not any better either. However, his eccentricity and self- assurance surpassed many an officer who had ever been working at the High Commission in London.
It also happened to be his first diplomatic appointment to London where he rented a flat in Holland Park in West London, not so far away from the High Commission building. As being the case with every diplomat upon their arrival in London, their first priority was to own a motor car or find a suitable school for the children if he is a married man with a family.
Wolly was a bachelor and was free like a bird. The first thing he did was to purchase an old Austin Mini minor for around 75 British Pounds, although the journey from his flat to office was not that far. No one was certain whether he had ever owned a vehicle in Sri Lanka, but somehow he had managed to obtain an international driving licence from the Automobile Association, Colombo.
Like many who believed in certain religious rituals upon purchasing a ‘new’ vehicle, he too took the car with the help of a friend, who had a British driving licence, to the London Buddhist Vihara for a blessing, Naturally, he felt he could not take a chance for the first time on a busy London road on his own.
On a Monday morning, after tying a two shilling coin into a piece of cloth and then attaching same to the steering column, as a protective augury, he started his maiden drive on his own Mini with two ‘L’ plates fixed on to the vehicle.
Holland Park Road is always busy stretch of road during peak hours with traffic lights at every 100 meters or so where drivers maintain proper lane discipline. However, trying to concentrate on the traffic flow, and at the same time keep an eye on the traffic lights, which he was not familiar with , made him go zig zag while driving. His driving caught the eye of a traffic patrol police officer on duty and stopped him immediately. In London any solo driver with “L” plates on, is a sure prey for traffic cops. However, when he was stopped by the police Wolly, as cool as cucumber, got off from the vehicle and spoke to the police officer:
Wolly: “ What seems to be the problema officer”?
Police: “Can I see your driving licence Sir”?
Very confidently Wolly produced his international driving licence along with his diplomatic ID to the police officer who became perplexed and said:
Police: “When you have a valid driving licence, why do you want to have ‘L’ plates on Sir? Are you aware of the fact, Sir, that in England, it is illegal to drive with ‘L’ plates on without a licensed driver seated next to the driver.”
Wolly: “Officer, to be frank, I fixed these plates not for my own safety, but for the safety of those who follow me”.
With a stiff British upper lip, the police officer requested him to remove the plates on the spot, which he did immediately, and drove off without being charged.
Subsequently Wolly upgraded his automobile and became a proud owner of a Mercedes Benz 200, which was advertised in the diplomatic list. To make things easy the seller was his own High Commissioner, Sir Lalitha Rajapakse. Somehow, he managed to do a deal and purchased the Benz and was seen driving once inside the Hyde Park, behind the High Commission building, which ran parallel to the Bayswater Road. Within minutes two three police panda cars raced towards his Benz, blaring their deafening sirens, and blocked Wolly’s car. Immediately one of the police officers jumped out of the police car, ran towards the Benz and removed the ignition key from Wolley’s Benz.
Wolly maintaining his cool, as usual politely asked : “What seems to be the problem officers”?
Police: Can I have a look at your driving licence, Sir ?
Wolly, as usual, produced both the International driving licence and the Diplomatic ID once again, with a sarcastic smile from the corner of his mouth. The Police could not do anything as he claimed diplomatic immunity by showing his identity and the International licence.
Frustrated Police said: “Do you realise Sir, that in this part of the world, we drive on the left hand side of the Road and not on the right?
Wolley made a tongue-in-cheek remark to the police officers, and said:
“Yes! yes.!!. officer, I am quite aware of the British high way code but you see, tomorrow I am going to Germany overland. I just thought of having a practice session on the right hand lane inside the park as I will have to drive on the right in Germany,haven’t I ? Not much harm done, I suppose, have I? Sorry if I caused you any problems”
“Have a nice day Sir, and drive carefully” was the frustrated Police officer’s reply.
Every time when Wolly was with friends at boozing sessions, he always related, with pride, about his own experiences in London and deriving immense pleasure out of such narrations.
pic credit: google