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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Return to London after 34 years

By Dr Nihal D Amerasekera  FRCP (UK), FRCR (Lond)

I stepped off the Swissair flight at Heathrow on a warm summers day in June 1974.  I was beginning a new life and a new career in an alien country. Although this seemed a daunting prospect, my youth gave me some protection, courage and confidence. Within 8 gruelling years of that fateful day the National Health Service decided to offer me their top job in Radiology 50 miles north of London. I left the city that gave me refuge and training with a heavy heart. The loss of the proximity to the cinema, theatre, music and the cricket wore heavily on me. But my busy professional career and family responsibilities took precedence.

We moved to a house in a picturesque town surrounded by green fields and a golf course. It was a town specially designed as a Garden City with tree lined streets and beautifully laid out parks and gardens. Being a Quaker town it had no pubs. Time passed swiftly as the blink of an eye. Watching the children grow up was a sublime experience. They left home leaving an empty nest.  We are all now used to this ritual of modern living. After a lifetime of study and work my career came to a close with my retirement. My wife and I were left rattling in a large sprawling house. Living in the countryside had lost its lustre and appeal. We felt a move back to London will revitalise our lives.

Our decision to return to London was made with our eyes wide open. All through the ages from its Roman origins in AD 49 London has had its share of abuse and compliments. In the 15th century Dick Whittington thought its streets were paved with gold. William Blake (18th Century) spoke of a corrupt and corrupting city. William Wordsworth (19th Century ) was most complimentary in his poem “Composed upon Westminster Bridge”. The city is still a mixture of all those observations and remarks, ever ready to surprise us.

I wouldn’t bore you with the perils of buying and selling property in England. The experience was unpleasant, mentally draining and stressful, in a word,  a nightmare. But that is behind us now. We bought a flat in North West London within 10 minutes walk of the Lords Cricket grounds and 5 minutes from the beautifully laid out gardens of Regent’s Park. There are 3 hospitals within 30 minutes travel – The Royal Free, St Mary’s, Paddington and the University College Hospital. This is important as our bodies creak from time to time needing some care and attention.

Lords is the home of cricket and I look forward to the summers. Cricket at its best is the epitome of elegance and grace. My seat at Lords has been reserved for the past 15 years – I’ve got the best seat in the grounds, just under the bowlers arm. As the champagne corks pop all round the grounds I sip my glass to enjoy the spectacle in the middle. The Sri Lankan games give me  the opportunity to meet old chums to reminisce, reconnect  and put the world to right.

I have always loved cars and driving. I purchased the best I could afford to travel in safety and comfort. In London a car is a liability and parking is difficult. Night driving was getting increasingly hazardous. Public transport in the city must be one of the best in the world with the underground, surface trains and a fine bus service which all come free to senior citizens that live in London. I sold both cars and use public transport. It is marvellous not to be looking for parking when I reach a venue. I still do miss the freedom of car travel. Life is a big compromise!!

It is said “if you are tired of London you are tired of life” How very true. There is so much on offer. Since my childhood classical music was my passion. There are so many venues for music lovers all within striking distance. From the theatre and ballet to a multitude of museums and art galleries we are spoilt for choice. They are indeed some of the best in the world.

It was through luck more than judgment I found my nest for life. Living in a flat requires a different mind set. The block is a community although not a close one as we hardly know the neighbours.  Everyone is busy with their own lives. There are house rules some written and other unwritten and also civic and social responsibilities. We must respect others' privacy while sharing the space. Looking through the window at night, I see the geometrically arranged lights from the surrounding blocks.  This creates its own beauty.  Each light represents people with their joys and sorrows which are a part of the rich tapestry of life.

The London I left in 1982 was quintessentially British. It was then slowly moving away from the colour bar that existed before the 1970’s and the horror of those familiar signs “No Blacks and Coloureds”. Now it is truly cosmopolitan. Walking the streets we hear a multitude of languages and I feel more at home. Being part of the European Union and the influx of people from those countries has tipped the balance towards integration. Society has bent over backwards to eliminate discrimination. I remember when I first arrived in the UK, my surname was amusing to many and I was embarrassed when they pronounced it horribly wrong. Some of the Polish, Czech and Hungarian surnames are longer than my own with many more consonants than vowels. My surname is part of my heritage and a crucial connection with my past. Now the locals make a genuine attempt to pronounce it correctly. London certainly is more welcoming than it has ever been.

London like all capital cities is a place for young people. They earn and learn in the big city in a variety of organisations and institutions. There are hordes of tourists who pound the streets shopping and absorbing the history and the atmosphere. The hectic pace can at times be overwhelming for us seniors, but thankfully there are places of refuge in the parks and the arts dotted around the city.

I am pleased to be in London at this stage of my life. This will be my home away from home for the foreseeable future. I am constantly aware of the fragility of life and will do my best to enjoy it to the full. The forces of destiny will decide the rest.

What amazes me most is the turn of fate that has changed our lives since that fateful goodbye in 1967 at the Faculty.

I dedicate this short account of my present life to those of our batch who are unwell and in mental or physical pain. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

Where there is sickness, let there be healing;
Where there is doubt, let there be faith;
Where there is despair, let there be hope;
Where there is darkness, let there be light;
Where there is sadness, let there be joy.

This is our own Blog for the batch. It is your privilege and discretion to respond or not. This is our only unifying forum, a reminder of times past.  It floats on cyberspace to reach your homes in any part of the world. Do try to keep in touch. Nothing is forever. Write a comment – short or long. Post a Blog or send us a photo. It is easy if you try.

We thank Lucky Abey for maintaining this Blog. This can be a lonely thankless chore. It is a tough task well done. One needs the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Jesus Christ to keep the forum clean in a world full of division and discord. We have had our debates and differences which have been resolved amicably as responsible adults. This requires a thick hide and broad shoulders. For all this we must be grateful to Lucky. His warm hospitality is legendary. Through thick and thin he has been my friend for over half a century. Time has not dimmed our friendship. We last met for an Indian cuisine at the Cinnamon Grand in 2012 where we discussed life, friends, family and everything else. I do hope we have the good fortune to meet again.


  1. It has been my habit, which has now become a tradition, to acknowledge each and every contribution to the blog. However, in this instance, I deviate from that path to say in a comment, what I would have said in a personal e-mail to him.

    As I have said before, I normally post ND's articles even before reading because I know for sure that it warrants publication. Here too I had to deviate because I was so interested in the topic and read it no sooner I checked my mail.

    By writing this opening comment, I am responding to ND's plea as well. I refer here to his invitation to viewers to offer comments on what he has put together.

    I was particularly touched by what ND has written in the last paragraph. It is nice to hear/read such nice things about one's own self from time to time. ND has used many kind words to describe our relationship and all I can say is that feelings are mutual. He has been a close friend since I first met him in 1962 and will always be, though we have chosen to live in different parts of the globe in the evening of our lives.

  2. Just a short comment while on holiday. I too value the memories of my medical faculty days and the friendships I made. Memories are valuable and unlike real life, we can pick and choose the playbacks! I too like to record my appreciation of what Lucky has done by creating this blog. Among many benefits to me personally it has also renewed some old friendships and strengthened existing ones.

  3. As always, interesting & well written. Thanks for trying to keep us together, like Lucky.
    Indra A

  4. Indra
    Thank you for the kind comment. We all enjoy your lovely photos and your botanical paradise.

  5. Nihal, it's a great pleasure and privilege to comment on an article such as yours above, and it is a great pride for Batch'62 to have people like you and Lucky in it. You have taken us through your own Memory Lane from 1974 when you set foot on these shores having left our Mother Land. We have enjoyed visual pictures of your experiences interspersed with wisdom from great Masters and lines from great poets. Finally I want to reiterate your thoughts and suggestions for our batch-mates to take part in any small way they can to make this a unique and memorable forum. Thanks and Well Done! from Zita

  6. Zita
    Thank you. As always an encouraging comment to persevere and not lose hope. Sadly it is just a handful of regulars but at our age there are many other things to do in life. Lucky indeed is the mainstay. Let us hope he will continue to keep us all together.

    1. By the way the little poem/prayer in my epilogue is taken from St Francis of Assisi - altered to suit our forum

    2. Hey, that's right! I thought 'It is familiar, but it is different'! And it is always so comforting, this particular verse. And today it can be said and even shouted out loud when there have been such atrocities up in the air. May all those affected be comforted!

  7. Nihal- how could one fail to respond to your plea!
    Even before I begin you'd know what I'd say about your beautifully flowing narrative!Thanks for giving us the pleasure of reading about your experiences.
    Iam glad 'the move' has brought closer to you many of the pastimes you cherish.May it be just the start of all that's dearest to your heart.
    I am also touched by your compassion for our fellow beings/batchmates.
    I did recognize the adaptation from the very beautiful prayer by St Francis of Assisi,a framed original of which hangs where I see it each morning to set me on the correct path!
    My Very best Wishes to you and yours in your new home-Rohini

  8. Rohini
    Thank you for the good wishes and the kind comments. St Francis' Prayer is a powerful reminder of how to achieve our goal in our pursuit of happiness, as we drift in this troubled world. To have it framed to be read so often must bring you great comfort.

  9. I was keen to look up the Prayer referred to and thought it would be useful to publish it as a comment.

    The Peace Prayer

    Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
    Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
    Where there is injury, pardon;
    Where there is error, the truth;
    Where there is doubt, the faith;
    Where there is despair, hope;
    Where there is darkness, light;
    And where there is sadness, joy.

    O Divine Master,
    Grant that I may not so much seek
    To be consoled, as to console;
    To be understood, as to understand;
    To be loved as to love.

    For it is in giving that we receive;
    It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
    And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.


  10. Mahen
    It is interesting to read about the life of St Francis. Such a wonderful human being. His compassion for the poor and for animals is legendary. There is an old painting that shows birds flying on to his palm.

  11. Nihal,
    Sorry for the late response. I was in Sydney for two weeks on holiday. Enjoyed reading your well written narrative. Looking forward to meeting you (and others) in London in June/July.

  12. Sanath
    Thank you for the kind comment. It would be great to meet up after such a long time. Looking forward to a fine reunion in London

  13. Sorry ND, been down with a cold that progressed on 'the Flu' and on it went on to a full-blown chest infection. Being very generous I shared it my wife and son as well!!
    Nice to see you now somewhat "tampath wela" in London after doing 'the rounds'--- I know the feeling!!!. I for one have never gone back to the "scene of crime" once I left the place --- even for a visit. So much so that since retirement I have not visited the Blood Centre in Dundee that is only about 3 miles away -- that is since 1999!!! That's me I suppose?? Been to Aberdeen only to visit my brood -- all of them settled there..... thats all.
    Wish you and your wife a happy stay in London and all the very best to your family.


  14. Razaque
    Thank you for the good wishes and the comment. London is my final resting place to lay my bones in some corner in a foreign field. It was a case of down sizing and making life manageable as we ride into the sunset. I too now dont look back to my life in the country.
    On a brighter note Summer is trying its best to peep out. Hopefully it will happen this long weekend. I hope the arctic spring you had will turn soon.
    I always recall those good times in Wattala and sadly only us two are left from that happy band of travelers. "Inshallah" we will have the good fortune to meet again some sunny day. If ever you come to London, although its streets are not paved with gold, do contact me.