If Samuel Taylor Coleridge had lived in Sri Lanka he would not have even started Kubla Khan. I doubt he would even have had time to get a decent fug going on his opium pipe. Life here is a procession of Persons from Porlock and getting anything done without interruption is nigh impossible. I only managed to write Broke’n’English by retreating with the laptop each morning to sit in the pavilion by the swimming pool. The sixty five steps down from the house were usually sufficient to deter all but a few genuinely important interruptions. There I would resolutely remain until I had achieved what I set out to do for the day. After all, that’s what Proper Writers are supposed to do, is it not? Think of Roald Dahl’s garden shed, Dylan Thomas’s boathouse. Though J K Rowling, being a woman and therefore not entitled to a shed, had to make do with the public environment of a Morningside cafe, which makes her all the more admirable in my opinion.
Sadly, now the book is finished such indulgences are no longer permitted by management and I have to focus on the day job of running a guest house. Having sorted out three sets of people’s transport for the day, settled up with the ones who are leaving, updated the accounts and cleared away the breakfast dishes, maybe a chance to write something?
Martin, our housekeeper, scurries in: “Sir. CEB bill now coming”, and hands me the outcome of the latest electricity meter reading. Five minutes later he’s back. “Sir, now coming one man, he needs to talk.” “Who is this man, Martin, What does he want?” “Sir I do not know.” Turns out he owns another property in the area and wants to know if we are selling Jungle Tide. The fact is he’s no more interested in buying than we are in selling, but Sri Lankans have endless curiosity and it is only polite to show him around. Another half hour wasted.
Just got back to the blog and the phone rings, located in neutral territory on the dining table (Sally is in the kitchen, I’m on the veranda). “Darling, can you get that? I’m up to my elbows in bread dough”. It’s a guy speaking in Sinhala who I pass on to Rani, Martin’s wife and our other housekeeper. As suspected he’s a driver for some guests arriving tomorrow and wants to know how to get here. The guests have already passed on the directions I sent them but the driver needs it from the horse’s mouth, or at least Rani’s mouth.
Half an hour passes uneventfully. Half an hour of writer’s block (or, if you prefer, bloggers block). Martin is back in: “Sir, Grama Server”. The Grama Server (properly titled Grama Sevaka) is the equivalent of an English Parish Council Clerk but vested with real local significance. His signature is needed on countless official documents and it pays to be in with him. We have had three of them to date, all really friendly and as far as I’m aware not corrupt, but it is still best to offer them tea and biscuits and a chat when they call in unannounced. Another half hour gone.
The phone goes again. Sally answered the last one so it’s my turn, I guess. “Hallo, Jungle Tide?” “Yes, this is Jungle Tide. How may I help you?” “Jungle Tide?” “Yes, how may I help?” “You have guest house?” “Yes, we are a guest house”. “You have rooms?” Tempting though it is to say that we are a guest house which does not have rooms I bite my lip: “Yes, we have rooms. How many you want? What date?” “You have rooms tomorrow night?” “Yes, we have two rooms tomorrow night.” “What is price?” … and so on through a questionnaire about the size and depth of the pool, what food we offer, how many staff we employ and whether we give reduced prices to Sri Lankan people (answer – when Sri Lanka stops charging foreigners exorbitant rates to visit the Temple of the Tooth, Peradeniya Gardens or Sigiriya Rock we might consider it). Turns out it’s an extended family of sixteen people. Had they mentioned that when I told them we had two rooms it would have saved us both a lot of wasted time.
And the day trundles on interrupted by sales teams who turn up in fours, usually dressed as Jehovah’s Witnesses, trying on spec to sell anything from mobile phone networks to hotel supplies to laundry services. Martin runs in excitedly: “Sir, important letter now coming. Please pay two hundred fifty rupees.” The ‘important letter’ is a couriered certificate from the Tourist Board for which we have to pay the courier, despite having paid the Tourist Board the fee for the certificate in the first place.
How do you blog in the face of a stream of interruptions. You make the interruptions the material for the blog, that’s how.