The Gully Gully Man

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September 28th 1964
Published: February 17th 2019
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Fancy dress night aboard the SS HimalayaFancy dress night aboard the SS HimalayaFancy dress night aboard the SS Himalaya

That's me looking vaguely Chinese, second from the right. I'm not sure the young lad on the left would get away with his get up these days......
The cruise wouldn't have been complete without the obligatory children's fancy dress competition. I remember Mum discovering an old acquaintance of hers amongst the Himalaya‘s passengers, and this poor lady then somehow became lumbered with the responsibility for kitting me up for the show. I‘m fairly sure she didn’t travel the high seas armed with cabin loads of suitcases packed full of fancy dress outfits, but this didn't seem to slow her down too much. She managed to assemble enough suitable gear to make me bear at least a passing resemblance to a youngster from the backstreets of Shanghai, complete with long thin oriental moustache. If the pictures of the event are anything to go by, a lot of my young shipmates' parents must have known before we set sail that a fancy dress night was on the agenda; either that or their offspring routinely went around dressed as jockeys, or mini versions of Venetian gondoliers or oil sheikhs. The parents of one of my less fortunate young colleagues decided it would be a good idea to smother him from head to foot in brown boot polish, drape a loin cloth around him, and wrap his head in a pillow case. This made him look the sort of impoverished Indian waif that the British Raj would have forced to carry large quantities of water up steep hills for little or no pay. I suspect that this would break just about every known rule of political correctness today, but these were certainly very different times.

One of the Himalaya's passengers died on board at around this stage of the voyage. My parents went to great lengths to prevent me learning about this, as they thought that I might find it a bit disturbing. What they hadn't counted on was the very effective grapevine that was in operation amongst the ship's younger passengers, and I think one of my mates told me that a funeral was about to be held on one of the decks even before my parents became aware of it. I think I remember Mum and Dad telling me that the remains of the poor passenger who had passed away had been heaved over the side, leaving me a bit concerned that their relatives wouldn't then be able to visit their grave. I read that the bodies of people who die on cruise ships these days are returned to
Fancy dress night after-partyFancy dress night after-partyFancy dress night after-party

That's me on the left, now looking slightly less vaguely Chinese
shore, but it's not at all clear when it stopped being customary for them to be buried at sea. My great grandfather died at sea on a cruise ship. I'm now wondering where he was buried?

As we approached Colombo the ship was boarded by the local gully gully man, who then performed a show for the passengers. I somehow became the poor bunny who was picked out of the crowd to be his sidekick. His main trick was pulling a seemingly endless supply of chickens out from behind my ears, and even from my position right next to him I had absolutely no idea how he was doing it. I had a message recently from a fellow TravelBlogger telling me about a gully gully man who came on board a ship he was on travelling through the Suez Canal. It seems I may have been lucky that my gully gully man only used chickens; his version used a cobra.

We took a trip from the port of Colombo out to Mount Lavinia, which is about ten kilometres to the south along the coast. My parents drank tea on the terrace of the Mount Lavinia Hotel overlooking the beach. They were both big tea drinkers, and I suspect that drinking tea in Sri Lanka, or Ceylon as it was then, was probably regarded by them as a must-do activity. I read now that the Mount Lavinia Hotel was, and still is, quite a local institution. It was built in 1806 as the British Governor's residence. During World War 2 it was commandeered as a military hospital and supply base, and it was converted into a hotel in 1947, shortly before Sri Lankan independence in 1948. Some scenes from the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai were filmed there in 1957. It's still a luxury hotel now. If the only photo I've got of us at Mount Lavinia is anything to go by, Dad was certainly suitably attired for drinking tea on the terrace of a post-colonial institution, complete with tie, very formal white jacket, and panama hat. Far be it from either of my parents to ever let the dress standards slip.


18th February 2019

We didn't have a dress up day...
but di have a talent context. My sister wore her Thai dancer costume and performed a Thai classical dance. She won first prize and a medal from the captain. I didn't have any talent, or at least none that I can remember! Thanks for the mention regarding gully gully men. Those were the days!
18th February 2019

Dress ups
Thanks for this. I am also talentless and didn't win anything, so don't feel too bad!
18th February 2019

Before political correctness
What a trip. What an amazing experience to have so young. I'm envious and loved reading all about it. Thanks for sharing.
19th February 2019

Before political correctness
Thanks Dave and Merry Jo, I think it's only in my later years that I've started to appreciate just how lucky I was to have such wonderful parents, as I find out that not everyone was so fortunate. Cheers, Dave

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