School and beyond

Question: Hey Hiran! I remember you from schooldays. But you suddenly disappeared at around 6th form. Where’ve you been hiding?

Answer: Ah, good question! Here’s the short version!

At age 18 I had never been away from home and family. Not one single night.

Yet, I found myself at a Notary Public on Havelock Road one morning swearing a declaration that I was relinquishing my rights to citizenship under the Citizenship Act of Ceylon 1948 in order to leave the country (alone) for good, moving to another country where I was also a citizen. That’s quite a bit more than going away from home for a few nights. I was allowed to take £150, a Ford suitcase (with largely unsuitable clothes), and a one-way ticket; the same deal as our classmates who emigrated to Australia. As an added bonus, I had no place to live. There was a last-minute hiccup when one of the requirements for emigration was a clearance that I owed the country no tax (long story. I had only earned Rs 40 by then for one gig with Shorty and the Tall Boys in 1970. But they needed a tax clearance on my father, which he protested as he was not going anywhere! For context, at the time you couldn’t take money out of the country, including buying air tickets. And you needed a permit to leave the country during the insurgency)

Passport 1971

You can see the look of fear in the passport photo.

The previous day I had been to the principal Bogoda Premaratne in his office and received my school leaving certificate. He also signed the photo for my new passport and a little chat ensued about my impending adventure. My father had taught him. I had a place at University College London to study Chemical Engineering. I was born across the road at University College Hospital, where George Orwell died, and also got married though in reverse order, Ringo Starr had his tonsils out, and was the backdrop location for the early Doctor films.

My Royal journey began at Royal Primary School in 1958. My memories there are scatty. On my first day, I was sitting next to a boy whose older sister had the same name as me. That simple fact sealed my path for the next years and many decades to come.

Bishops College with Mahes. 1957.

Coming over with me to the same class was a boy who was also at Bishops College. His family emigrated to the UK in 1963. It took me 50 years to track this guy down. Others at Bishops with us didn’t come over to RPS for the simple reason that RPS is a boy’s school. And they were not boys, as far as we could tell. And as a bonus, the son of my teacher at Bishop’s was also in our class. What could possibly go wrong?

My sporting prowess was hindered at RPS by the fact that I was apparently good at arithmetic. So, Mr. Willliam (our class master and cricket master) made me the official scorer in all the house matches in 1963, except the one in which I was made to play for Bradby House. Two runs were scored while trying to dodge the meeting of one hardball against two other rather delicate ones. My innings was over within one over. I was ejaculated from the crease prematurely. It was hardly worth the effort of putting on my pads. But it made me realise that score-keeping is one thing; making the score is another. (Not to be confused with ‘scoring’ on a date, or dealing in drugs)

Aged 16. Drain pipes and Beatle boots.

My next sporting encounter was in tennis but not at school. It was brief. I had already been ruled out by DDN Selvadurai, who figured (as I was attempting to hit backhands with two hands) that I should be trying my hand at cricket. Both. Hands. Been there, done that. However, tennis became my new religion at age 25, and Bjorn Borg as my new god. It led to many significant things in my life (such as meeting a 17-year-old Swedish girl Charlotte and getting married for a 34-year fixed-term. Does anybody remember a song on Radio Ceylon called ‘Svenka Flicka’?), also playing amateur singles tournaments until about age 40. I stopped when I was beaten in straight sets by a 12-year-old. I think he was cheating. LOL. I guess I was trying to be the tennis sensation from Sri Lanka ‘Biyonanda Borgadasa’.

Then there was the vacancy for a cox in the rowing. I could shout. But couldn’t swim. It wasn’t a requirement or necessary. Unless one had fallen into the lake. We won, helped by my shouting no doubt. The highlight of last year was being taken to the Henley Royal Regatta by my old rowing captain. (Aptly, Royal keeps appearing throughout my life)

1978. That kit cost a fortune. Shoes specially ordered from Italy by Jaroslav Droby, Wimbledon Champion in 1954. He had a shop in South Kensington, London.

It’s interesting that many of the things that dominated my adult life had their seeds sown in my school days.

I did no drama. But I was in awe of those who did. My father was an actor in his day, famous for some well-known roles. I took to the stage late in life, learning to act, sing, and dance. I was mostly given comedy parts. I played Margaret Mead in HAIR (in drag. In the original she gets to expose her manhood. A sort of ‘gender reveal’?), two Cole Porter musicals, Sweeney Todd where I got to do stunts, a Dumas-inspired new musical where I got to sword fight; but not for long as I was the first to be despatched and play dead. In Copacabana, I played a character called Willy. Appropriate. After a production of Jesus Christ Superstar recently (apostle Hiran) I hung up my codpiece. Though it wasn’t at school, my early training with Wendy Whatmore (in what I later learned as RP ‘really posh’!) came very handy in all my personal presentation and communication endeavours, with some help from the BBC and some good teachers in the early 70s.

The Beatles thing began around the time of our entry to college. A small enclave of Beatles and pop fans at college kept me updated on the latest tracks, particularly those heard on radio stations other than Radio Ceylon. Again, I had no idea at the time that that topic would dominate my later adult life. I had my 45 minutes of fame in 2009 at Abbey Road single-handedly starting a sing-along with 3,000 fans (of the Beatles. Not me. LOL) being seen on TV around the world for one day. I set up the Beatles Jam London where we congregated each month to make music.

1973. Second year at UCL.

The pictorial magazines that were passed around in school for reference and education were another seed that I had no idea would feature heavily in my later life and career. Although leaving home at age 18 was a little scary, it were these publications that gave me hope that in the country I was permanently leaving for, girls, underneath their clothes, were mainly naked. At age 30, I was required to constantly verify this fact as part of my job within my responsibilities of ‘balancing the boobs’ at one such publication. My boss became a billionaire. In contrast, I don’t even have a billion hairs.

But it wasn’t accounting that drove me, it was my passion for how things worked. And how they could work better. At age 12 we were trying to make cardboard aeroplanes fly. Since 40 years ago, I discovered a passion for programming spreadsheets and related technologies. Now I’m working on publishing my work, as cloud tech has moved the significance of what we did in more interesting directions.

I live in the Royal London Borough of Greenwich, in SE London. Royal, again. The 0 longitude runs through my flat. On a good day, I have one testicle in the West and one in the East. Not quite, but I like to think so (it gives a tingling feeling). I hope to move closer to my son’s family and two grandchildren (Reuben 5 and November (Novi) 2) who live 40 minutes away in an area that used to be a WWII airbase, where famously four German ME109s landed in thick fog by mistake thinking they were in Northern France. I bet they regretted that. Occasionally I get the urge to pick up my guitar and go perform solo in a pub in Central London. Me and my music adventures can be found on the usual socials YT, Insta and TikTok.

So there. Everything I have had the pleasure of enjoying in the 50-odd years after school leaving had some seed (or weed!) planted in my school days, though not necessarily within the hallowed walls. I’m eternally grateful to those who fed this joyful process. But in all these, I had no idea at the time what magic lay ahead.

Hiran de Silva Thenabdu. Sep 2023.

Copyright: Not to be reproduced without express permission of the author, in whole or in part. Especially not to be reproduced in edited form.

Trafalgar Square, London. December 1952 with parents Richard and Myrtle (Meta). During the infamous London smog.
Semi-nude appearance in the 2006 movie ‘Scenes of a Sexual Nature’ with Ewen McGregor and Douglas Hodge, and Joe Kloska who was then at RADA and later in the popular Netflix series ‘The Crown’ as Porchy.
Marlborough Arms pub. I was born just across the road from this pub in Central London, a few years earlier (!). April 2023.
Digital art inspired by pictorial inspiration from schooldays and later being in the men’s magazine industry. Not quite oil-on-canvas!
In October 1971, I had just landed in London the previous day. I was sitting on this very same park bench in Soho Square, wondering where the hell am I (LOL!).
1978. I was a trainee accountant with a London firm Mann Judd, now part of Delloite.
The Princess Royal, Princess Anne in my office. On the left of the picture is the right arm of my boss, now a billionaire ex-media tycoon. I was his right-hand man in financial matters. 1984.
Henley Royal Regatta 2022.
Charlotte. We were married in 1980. One of the bonuses from my relentless obsession with Bjorn Borg in the 70s. This was at the Royal College Dinner Dance at the Churchill Hotel around 1998.
This is when I thought I was George Harrison. When he died in 2001 I went to Abbey Road and performed a tribute.
Family holiday in Sri Lanka,1987.
Musical: As Willy in Copacabana. 2009 Bob Hope Theatre.
Musical: Smoky Joe’s Cafe 2009. Bob Hope Theatre. ‘Jailhouse Rock’.
Pete Howarth, lead singer of The Hollies in Sri Lanka 2007. He was touring with Cliff Richard.
Abbey Road Studios 2019. On the 50th anniversary of the cover photo. With friends, Beatles Jam members Iva and James.
February 2023. Liverpool. On a Beatles pilgrimage on the 60th anniversary of ‘Please Please Me’ LP recording.

A gig at a school in North London. Ursula and Jim.

I was a big fan of Madeline Smith, actor, and Bond Girl in Live and Let Die. 2022.
Maternal grandparents and their siblings with spouses in Matara, Ceylon in the Colonial years. My grandfather Sylvester Jayawickrama and grandmother Agnes are seated in the centre. Could be the 1930s (if there was colour film then).

Son (Jason) and granddaughter (November ‘Novi’) in 2023.

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