Making it in Broke’n’English | Daily News

Making it in Broke’n’English

Jungle Tide in Sri Lanka’s Hanthana mountain range was created by Jerry and Sally who named it after John Still’s 1930 book, which demonstrated his rebellious, nonconformist and anti-imperial personality and his understanding of the relationship between humans and nature. “In time the jungle tide will swing once more, and then those who care for other things besides wealth will wander back to the wet side of the monsoon line, and, while elephants browse where tea is now plucked, antiquaries will unearth the ancient bungalows of the British period, or even of the Scottish which will lie beneath it, and classify the different kinds of bottles found among the ruins and arrange them in museums.” John Still

Sally, one of the amazing visionaries of Jungle Tide, was born in Colombo towards the end of 1957 - a much-awaited daughter after five consecutive sons! By the time she was five years old, it might have been the 1960’s in England, but in old Ceylon it was more like the 1930’s, only a lot more glamorous. Every night she dressed for dinner, and at eleven years old she was allowed to wear her first long frock and formally join the adults. It was normal to be served dishes like Lobster Thermidor, and Coq-au-vin, which she had to pretend to enjoy (even though she didn’t). Being a girl in Ceylon, she was expected to learn all the etiquette of table seating and which way to lean as servants in white coats and sarongs brought food around on silver salvers, whilst talking politely and knowledgeably about Mozart and Beethoven, Gauguin and Renoir etc. But also, to know all about shooting and fishing and more. The best bit for Sally, as a youngster, was the fact that if she left the table, all the gentlemen had to stand up, including her brothers. You can imagine the satisfaction that gave a ten-year-old!

Family dogs

In Kandy, Sally, as a little girl, ran rings around her tutor and ran wild through the tea plantations and jungle, with only her family dogs for company. When she managed to escape her tutor and nanny, she played in the mud with the tea pickers’ kids down at the lines. They taught her how to make mud-pies and castles. She tried to give them her boring golden-haired dolls as a thank you for all the fun and games, but her Nanny always went down and reclaimed them, much to Sally’s disappointment. “I often rescued abandoned or injured animals and birds and nursed them into adulthood/health with varied amounts of success!” she says. She left Ceylon in 1971, just before it became Sri Lanka, travelling back to England in an epic overland trip in a small saloon car and a mini-moke.

She continues, “Going back to England was awful at first; dark, cold and everything seemed grey! The clouds, the trees, the clothes people wore, everything! I was 13 ½ years old and then I started realising slowly that I could be independent - no more Nanny! I was allowed to go on the buses and trains on my own, and there was pop music and clothes, and make-up. It was the swinging 70’s.” However, the spirit of the island remained with her and she returned in 1998 after 27 years. At the age of forty with her 8 year old daughter and lovely husband Jerry, she realised how amazing her small island was, with such a combination of ancient culture and history; astonishing biodiversity onshore and off; spectacular mountains; and tropical beaches.

As natural risk-takers, they are passionate about taking on every challenge, even building their own bridge to access their land. Jungle Tide bungalow was designed by architect AthulaGunawardene, who trained under Geoffrey Bawa. The basic concept was down to Sally, though – a modern take on a planter’s bungalow. High ceilings, long veranda, lots of natural light but without direct sunlight entering the house, and two adjacent kitchens (one western, one traditional) were the key features. Athularealised these ideas in a very impressive way.

Although, as Jerry explained, “We could not have built Jungle Tide without the help of our brilliant Project Manager, NissankaPerera, a former planter, who knew some of the associates of Sally’s parents, though not her parents themselves. And he was also the reason for our greatest success – finding Martin and Rani Fernando, who have worked for us since 2010 and remain at the very heart of all we do.” Jerry feels intellectually liberated by becoming a citizen of the world, learning first hand how to build a dream. For Sally, the learning has – somewhat sadly – made her realise that money is actually very important and necessary to achieve one’s dreams. She came from a background best described as impecunious upper class. A family crest, an impressive genealogy and oodles of antique silver, and lots of servants, but no cash. As a young woman, she regarded her lack of money as a positive thing – becoming self-reliant as a result. But now she laments, “What we could do with Jungle Tide if only we had some funds!”

Wildlife habitat

The Jungle Tide is, of course, unstoppable. A large part of the land remains uncultivated. However, ‘uncultivated’ is not the same as ‘wild’, and overgrown mana grass is neither pretty nor a good quality wildlife habitat. Gehan De Silva Wijeyeratne has suggested ways of encouraging wildlife and Sally and Jerry have increased plants which attract butterflies, bees and other pollinators, but this work is in the very early stages. “We have always had plenty of timber stacked around the land, to create habitats for small creatures. We didn’t really design the gardens; it was more a case of working with what we had.”

Natural assets include a stream, and a naturally raised area with lots of old rocks on it and a small stand of attractive trees by the house, all of which was developed into a rockery quite easily. Earlier schemes included a big dam for people to splash around in, but rock movement repeatedly made cracks, so it had to be demolished. Levelling the site for the house created a steep bank and turned a sloping piece of land into a two-level plot, so they connected the two levels with a stairway. The resulting lower gardens include the swimming pool and building, a shady streamside walk (which is overgrown in the wet season but lovely in the dry), a vegetable plot including their separate chalet accommodation, a small mango and other fruit tree area, and the aforementioned uncultivated bit stretching down the valley. The top garden is largely a big lawn for playing on, with a badminton net on one side, plus the rockery and various flower beds and borders.

There’s also a hen run in one corner and a shady area under a large avocado tree, where Rani expertly cultivates a large collection of anthuriums. “The final bit is a grassy slope where we’re cultivating further fruit trees and bushes, especially citrus. As to the pros and cons of tropical versus UK gardening – where does one start? Leeches versus slugs? Four seasons versus two? Mowers versus brush-cutters? Long beans versus broad beans? Mangoes versus apples? It would be great to combine the best of both worlds, of course,” added Jerry.

“For us, Sri Lanka’s Tea Country Trail is a wonderful bonus”, he continued, “as it will be marked out so people don’t lose their way and wander off into other places where they could damage vegetation and habitats (and indeed themselves!).”

Steep valleys

More generally, and as John Still observes, while a well maintained tea estate is visually attractive it is a monoculture. Uncultivated steep valleys and mountain tops continue to provide habitats but being unconnected these are of little use to larger animals. Ideally, they feel the project should include the creation of wildlife corridors in those areas (such as Hanthana) where there are sizeable tracts of abandoned or semi-abandoned tea, and have a conservation naturalist advising on the project development.

The trail will, they hope, provide opportunities for learning, as well as hiking. Learning about tea, of course, but also about the local geology and wildlife. Stage 1, running from the Tea Museum to Loolecondera, is a brilliant start for learning about tea, and the history of Hanthana and the legendary Indiana Jones. The Temple of Doom film was shot largely in the Hanthana area and Kandy.

Jerry kept a journal of their travels to Sri Lanka from 1998 through to when the house was completed in 2008. He printed it off and stuck it in a ring binder for any interested guests to look at, but with no intention of publishing. Several people contacted him to ask, “When is the book coming out?” so he decided to bring it up to date and publish it under the title Broke’n’English. “Memoirs are not supposed to contain untruths, but neither is it necessary to relate everything in precise chronological detail, so some liberties were taken. Turning a journal into a memoir was the hardest part” , he comments.

Before moving to Sri Lanka Sally was Director of Square Chapel Centre for the Arts, in Halifax. She and a few friends rescued the Grade 2* listed building in 1988 when it was on the verge of collapse. She devoted much of the next twenty seven years of her life to it, first as an unpaid trustee and volunteer, later as a part-time Director with a staff of one, and finally ending up having raised about £13m, and heading a staff team of over forty people, running a mid-scale theatre and performance arts venue with an associated café, bar and small cinema. She also played a part in the regeneration of Halifax Piece Hall, which is one of the most astonishing industrial heritage buildings in Britain.

So, why is Jungle Tide so unforgettable? Sally and Jerry give me their favourite quote from the guest book: “It was like spending a holiday with relatives – but ones that you really like!” In a nutshell – Jungle Tide is comfortable, relaxing and homely. Exchanging travellers’ tales around the breakfast or dinner table, or over an indoor game after dinner. It is the reason that they never went for ‘safe and secure’ status. Isolating their guests from one another would have completely destroyed the ambience of the place and gone against all their instincts on how to entertain guests and learn about the incredible jungle environment together.


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