That summer: South London turned into Sri Lanka...

In our series recalling memorable journeys, Fi Glover describes the surprising aftermath of a party in Clapham: a cricket match on a remote beach somewhere near Colombo

YOU COULD hear the clamour of the taxi drivers back in passport control, and by the time you had come through baggage reclaim (a loose description) your face would be contorted into a rendition of Munch's Scream as you prepared to turn down the offers to ride in every Sri Lankan cab that met the big plane from London at Colombo airport.

Not me, though.

"Friend of Max's ... friend of Max's?" asked the polite young man who came towards me as I crouched over my map of Sri Lanka. He could see that this was no ordinary, or sensible, map. It was, in fact, a photocopy on the back of a party invitation. As most maps should be. I had arrived in the still heat of Colombo equipped only with the following address: Max, Marrissa Beach, Sri Lanka.

And it really was written on the back of a party invitation. I can't remember now what the party itself was like, but since it was held eight years ago I should think it entailed cheap wine, expensive king-size Rizlas, ludicrously strong cocktails and rather weak men. Its glamour lay in the fact that Max (the host) was going off to Harvard to do something with his big brain for a year and, between leaving Clapham and arriving in Boston, he was going to Sri Lanka for the summer. He wanted all his friends to join him. So the invitations had that photocopy on the back, with a little dot showing where Marrissa Beach was. And it just said "come over". I did.

So there's this lovely Sinhalese man at the airport and among all the clamour he's asking me whether I'm a friend of Max. So, of course, I say: "Yes - why, do you know him too?" He says that he's in charge of some of the taxis, and that Max asked him to look out for pale young English people arriving on flights from London and point them in the right direction - south-west-ish. Fleeting thought: murderous, sweet-smiling serial killer, who says this to all the girls. But my mouth forms the reply: "Lovely, yup. He's in Marrissa, isn't he? Can I get a cab there? Super, marvellous. Yes, thank you very much, how kind."

The cab driver is equally lovely, and so we set off in a car that pays homage to a gearbox but doesn't appear to have one. If you take a cab out of Colombo and head south you soon lose the city, and the road follows the coast running between the white sands and the train line. Sometimes you go faster than the train; often you don't. It depends whether you're approaching a chicane of buffalo.

Five hours later we arrive in Marrissa. Now, I had thought on the way down that it might be a problem finding one tall, funny British bloke in what sounded like one of Sri Lanka's finest beach resorts. I was wrong. Marrissa Beach is just a beach, and back then Damarka's house and beach huts were the only accommodation available to optimistic Londoners. So we simply drove up to the gate, asked for Damarka, said hello, and at the mere mention of the name Max, realised that we had come to the right place. The taxi driver came in for dinner, and I walked out on to the beach to find that the party from Clapham had been pretty much transported in its entirety to a perfectly-formed hut, surrounded by palms, with the sun dipping down over a low sea. So it was slightly better than Clapham, really.

Damarka turned out to be a star. He was a tiny Sinhalese with almost ebony skin and the cheekiest grin, and dancing eyes that were kept constantly amused by the stream of white faces arriving at his gate. The bloke back at the airport must have been busy.

We had a rather magical time at Marrissa Beach. Damarka built us another hut when the numbers swelled and he organised a cricket match when we hit 12. We went down to the city of Galle to get a trophy made, and we played the local team on their pitch next door to Damarka's place. Guess what - we didn't get to keep the trophy. We girls were useless and kept trying to field in the shade, and we had to take a long tea break to get the water buffalo off the boundaries. The residents of Marrissa laughed a lot.

Max and the rest of the British cricket tour spent the whole of their summer there, but I had to return to my job filing bits of newspapers in a dungeon at the BBC. I wished I could have stayed longer. The only bad thing about the experience was that it made me keen to go to parties in Clapham. But maybe I'm being unfair. Maybe every Clapham cloud should have a Sri Lankan lining.

Since British Airways abandoned its London-Colombo route for the second time, the only airline flying direct between the UK and Sri Lankan capitals is Air Lanka (0171-930 4688), which has five flights each way every week. The best ones are on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, because these are non- stop. Lowest return fares are available through discount agents; expect to pay around pounds 550 for a direct Air Lanka flight, about pounds 100 less for a connecting flight on Emirates via Dubai or Kuwait Airways via Kuwait. Package holidays are widely available through agents such as Inspirations (01293 822244) and Somak (0181-903 8526).

Red tape: British visitors to Sri Lanka do not require visas for short visits.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor