Drama on the beach

The house we are staying in here on the beach in southern Sri Lanka is one of the most beautiful places I have ever stayed in. It is called Thalassa and, as the name suggests, is by the water. It is a big sprawling house with high ceilings, wooden floors, fans and comfy places to read (or write) books all around the property.

As I write this I am listening to the waves. Every day the kids have been body surfing, we have walked up and down the beach with the three dogs, and explored the rocks at the end of our beach.

This morning started out just the same. At one stage I headed back home with Bea and Leo, stopping for a quick body surf en route. The sea was a little rougher than usual. I had seen a group of people by the rocks and said to Olivia “they’re too far out”.

Just as I got to the garden gate Olivia ran to tell me Ria, a friend who is with us, told her to run and get help. “There’s a woman drowning,” she said.

I asked the staff in the house to call an ambulance and ran back out to see what I could do. The beach was filling up with people, friends of the missing lady, locals, stray dogs, all running towards the rocks near to where the group had been swimming. Ria had told a couple of locals to get a boat and we saw them first run past the house and then row out towards the rocks.

One of the friends of the lady told us the lady had been swimming with a couple, a huge wave had washed them all out to sea, the man had managed to grab his wife and pull her towards the shore, but not the other lady.

The whole group waited anxiously for the boat to arrive, one young local man braved the waves on a surf board to try to reach her. A group, her boyfriend included, went to the rock, I kept the children off it, and at one stage Ria told us they could see her floating in the water, face down. But still we all hoped that she would somehow come out alive.

The boat finally reached her and we all walked along the beach to meet it. Ria asked if either of the men on the boat had phones. No was the answer. She wanted to explain how to try to revive the lady. I took the children into the house while the rest of the group carried on down the beach. After about half an hour Ria came back.

“There was no hope,” she told us. “It was obvious when they pulled her from the boat there was nothing we could do.” Despite this two people did try to resuscitate her, but to no avail.

We are all still in shock. It is so horrible to think that the beautiful sea (pictured above) we have frolicked in all week and admired has killed someone. I can’t imagine how her poor family is feeling, hearing that their loved one has died in this holiday paradise. Of course all I could think about was that it wasn’t any of the children. I can’t imagine the panic and fear, thinking of them being lost in those waves, in that vastness, the immense sea, with barely any hope of finding them alive.

Needless to say we are staying away from the sea for the rest of the day, all grateful and happy to be together.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2011

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Three weeks today….

Rupert was lying in the sun having just enjoyed a swim when I broke the news to him. “Three weeks today you’ll be in an office,” I told him.

“It’s Sunday,” said Olivia.

“They work in a Sunday in Abu Dhabi,” I replied. Rupert seemed calm, in fact he didn’t even open his eyes. Maybe he was enjoying one of his last afternoon kips.

I cannot imagine what we will think of it. I know it will be very different to here where we are outside in the fresh air all day, swimming, walking, playing tennis, running out of petrol in the middle of the sea. Yes, my husband and boats. I should have known better than to get into one with him but I didn’t.

We rented a small speed boat for the day to explore the archipelago and its thousands of islands with. It started well. I was driving, speeding along (like you do in speed boats) enjoying the sunshine and the children pointing at various sights. This really is one of the most stunning places in the world. If you haven’t been then you should come. I have never seen so much beautiful nature.

""Suddenly there was a splutter and we ground to a halt. In the middle of the sea. We didn’t have any spare on account of the fact that we’d already used that the first time we ran out. And do you know how many petrol stations there are in the Stockholm Archipelago? About three. And they’re miles apart. So we were on our way to one of them when we shuddered to yet another halt.

We started drifting into land and I saw some people along the coastline. I waved frantically and shouted. They just waved back as is the manner on the ocean waves. I picked up the empty petrol can and started waving that around to passing boats. Thankfully one of them, driven by what I can only assume was a Swedish football player and his WAG, understood. They towed us in to Vaxholm where we filled up. Rupert and Leo tried to leave with the WAG but we stopped them. We managed to get home without running out again, just.

I suppose it’s an improvement on the last time Rupert got in a boat, ran aground somewhere near Marseillan and he and Julia had to be rescued by the lifeguards which cost us over one thousand euros. And he is already talking about buying a boat in Abu Dhabi. Let’s hope the job keeps him busy for a while.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008

Strawberry Hill Forever

Strawberry HillTomorrow we leave Jamaica. As I write I am sitting at Strawberry Hill (another one of Kate Moss’s hang-outs, does the woman do anything but travel to Jamaica?). I am on a terrace overlooking mountains that are slowly being covered in evening mist. I have never seen such a lush landscape; the green is intense and the flowers bright yellow, pink, purple and red. My favourite ones were delicate small white ones that had blown off trees and floated in the sea at Goldeneye. It was like swimming surrounded by tiny origami swans.

From the valley below there is reggae music. Extremely loud reggae music. In France you have barking dogs wherever you go; in Jamaica you have Bob Marley. I was never really into Bob Marley, even as a young wild thing. In fact I was never really a young wild thing. As my husband pointed out when I told him I hated smoking pot as a teenager; “For someone who is so obsessed with ageing, you seem to have been middle aged for a very long time.” Perhaps I am going to go through adolescence when most women go through the menopause?

I think Jamaica is lovely but a little too groovy and laid-back for me. We met the manager of the hotel today who laughingly said “there’s no point in going 100 miles an hour, because everyone else is going at fifty”. She is over 40 and looks about 25 so obviously the stress-free attitude is a good one, but that would just really annoy me. How does anyone get anything DONE around here? Well, most of them don’t. Here is a classic example. One of the waitresses here told us her name today.

“That’s an unusual name,” said my husband, “what does it mean?”

“I don’t know,” said the waitress, who is probably in her mid-twenties. “I must find out.”

But even if I wouldn’t like to live here, I like it. The people are friendly, the rum punches good, the food delicious and the countryside stunning. Maybe by the time I’m 50 I’ll be groovy enough to really get into the swing of things.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2007

From Jamaica with love

I have landed in Paradise.

Goldeneye“Welcome to Goldeneye,” says a charming black woman dressed in white. “Here is the house cocktail, it’s just a little rum, fresh apple and lime. You’ll be staying in the Ian Fleming Villa. There is a private beach, pool, several bedrooms each with their own outside bath and shower, any laundry you have just put it in the basket over there and housekeeping will collect it, the mini bar is over there, just help yourself, should you have too many Goldeneye’s and collapse there is an emergency medical button you can push for help, your masseur will be here at six. Nico, our personal trainer (Italian, very muscular) is on-hand to take you jet-skiing, running, canoeing, whatever you like. Can I do anything else for you?”

I am writing this at the desk Ian Fleming tapped out all the Bond novels on a gold-plated Royal typewriter. There was something impressively vulgar about the man’s taste, but not his house; it’s a masterpiece of minimalism. The room I am in is as big as the whole first floor of Sainte Cecile, the window stretches across almost the whole wall. Outside I can hear the sea lapping on my private raked beach, a chicken who has decided to visit, crickets, tree-frogs and various other Caribbean creatures.

Patrick Leigh Fermor describes the house brilliantly in his book The Traveller’s Tree: “Here, on the headland, Ian Fleming has built a house called Goldeneye that might serve as a model for new houses in the tropics. Trees surround it on all sides except the sea, which it almost overhangs. Great windows capture every breeze, to cool, even on the hottest day, the large white rooms. The windows that look towards the sea are glassless but equipped with outside shutters against rain: enormous quadrilaterals surrounded by dark wooden frames which enclose a prospect of sea and cloud and sky, and tame the elements, as it were, into an overhanging fresco of which one could never tire.”

GoldeneyeLet me try to describe my bathroom. It is outside, in a sort of secret, bamboo walled garden, filled with exotic plants. In the evening over-sized candles light your way to a free-standing Victorian bath amid palm trees on a wood-panelled stage. To the left is a large shower and next to the bedroom door a rectangular marble slab with a brass sink on top of it. A large mirror hangs above it, its frame made up of tiny shells. In this mirror you can see a full-length view of yourself in the one behind which stands against a trellis at the other end of the garden-bathroom. This may not please all the guests but I guess Scarlett Johanssen, Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, all of whom come here regularly, enjoy the view.

The ground between the two mirrors is covered with pale, old stone. It is lovely to think that Ian Fleming must have padded about here barefoot as he prepared to take his pre-cocktail bath underneath the stars, plotting Bond’s next move. The ground in the rest of the ‘room’ is a mixture of flagstones and tiny stones, candles are dotted about as well as plants; some vibrant green, some bright red and pink, no other decoration is needed. Half of the area is protected by a wooden awning, but if it is raining and you want a bath you will have to have a shower as well.

Last night we had dinner on the beach. The stairs was lit by large candles. A table was laid and we sat under the stars, listening to the sound of the waves, and ate prawns, fish and steak. This was washed down with a couple of glasses of Sauvignon Blanc. In the distance, you could make out the sound of a Bob Marley song. There is always a snake in paradise.

I will more or less follow Ian Fleming’s pattern of life while I’m here. Get up early (as I write it is 5.30am), go for a swim (I’ll do some sun salutes of course too), have breakfast, write until lunchtime, lunch, afternoon nap, more writing, cocktails, dinner. What’s not to like? Though I’m not sure where I’ll be able to fit in the Italian personal trainer. Unless I can distract my husband…

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2007