While I was engaging in all these other initiatives and much travel, I realized that I should really be settling down too to something more. The GELT course was not a full time occupation, and in any case the Chairman had indicated that he did not think pre-University English should be the responsibility of the UGC. Meanwhile the AUCs that had become universities were suggesting that I might like to join them full-time.
If I were to do so, the most appealing was clearly Sabaragamuwa University, which had been made up of the AUCs at Belihuloya and Rahangala and Buttala. Its principal academic in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Languages turned out to be the sister of my cousin Kshanika’s former husband, Jeevaka Weeratunge. I had first met the family properly soon after the wedding in 1975, on my way back to Oxford between degrees. Dr Soma Weeratunge was our ambassador in Moscow then, and his younger daughters, two very lively girls, looked after me energetically before and after the main point of that visit, a journey to Tbilisi in Georgia, the old Tiflis that I had always wanted to visit.
I went by train, a magnificient journey through the Caucasus mountains. The old ladies in my compartment seemed to love me, as well as the other young man there, since we had given up to them the lower bunks we had. They insisted on feeding me throughout the journey, while the youngster gave me vodka, and chased away some Muslims who came in to claim kinship by asserting loudly that I was a Christian (this had been established early on). I was reminded then of the long train journey I had made way back in 1972 from Budapest to Kiev, going to join my father who was on a Parliamentary delegation in the Soviet Union. The babushkas who looked after the carriages were still there, with their samovars full of tea, supplied frequently at very low cost.
Tiflis was a joy, culminating in the open air opera where the performance was of La Traviata. Two boys who befriended me insisted on buying my ticket and, when I asked what I could do in return, said a Led Zeppelin record would be nice. I had never heard of the group, but I duly found one when back at Oxford and posted it on. Continue reading