More Thrills Than Skills – A Half-Life in Journalism, Part 106

Over the next few weeks, is to publish, each weekday, extracts from the memoirs of Scottish war correspondent, Paul Harris. ‘More Thrills than Skills: A Half-life in Journalism’, is to be published March 1 next year, by Kennedy & Boyd, Glasgow, and available from

At a dinner party in Colombo, soon after I first arrived in Sri Lanka in 1996, I was introduced to the assembled guests by my host and good friend, Upali, a retired Major General. “Paul Harris is here to write about the three ‘Ts,” he announced. “Tea, tourism and terrorism.” Upali chortled cheerfully, as was his wont, and the dinner party conversation switched to discussing the peculiar paradoxes in the life of what used to be known, in better times, as Ceylon.

My neighbour to my right at the table turned to me and highlighted those paradoxes with his opening, conversational gambit.

“My dear boy, do you hunt to hounds?” I have to confess I was momentarily stupefied by the quite unexpected query across a tropical dinner table at the very end of the 20th century. Was this former army commander ‘taking the mickey’? Certainly not, as it turned out. In the decades immediately after independence it had been de rigeur for Ceylon army officers to take their training at Sandhurst and, in the process, learn all sorts of useful English social skills like ballroom dancing, drinking twenty pints of beer at a sitting and . . .