Once, when people still had time for, or a belief in things other than shopping or raw survival, Sundays were special.
There was getting up late for one thing - very late perhaps; or not at all. Staying all day in bed was always a wicked though rarely called-upon option.
That was the point: getting up when you wanted to. Even if, after that, the day was dotted with destinations.
There was church of course - though this was, even in my lifetime, a frail insubstantial affair, in full retreat; a mere whisper of its once titanic Victorian self. “Hymns Ancient & Modern”; the “Book of Common Prayer”; the sermon, reassuring anaemic; the bread, and the water – all of it – before my eyes -sliding through gargoyles accompanied by Bach's “Toccata and Fugue in D minor”.
But other things took its place.
In the golden famine years before the internet, there were the Sunday newspapers, bursting with sections for business and culture, property and fashion, news, and gardening, knitting and pets. On and on they went, a breathless orgy of newsprint and colour illustrations to inform or titillate most legal interests. It took whole days to get through.
And there was Sunday Lunch; a massive piece of meat at its heart, accessorized with smaller dishes, sauces, vegetables, pastries, puddings, condiments, coffee, chocolates. A Hollywood film on telly for later? Or a walk? And dinner, composed of scraps of all that was left. The family, eating and fighting together. Joined by friends or relatives.
All of it seems, from my jungle clearing, like an enigmatic piece of ritualistic theatre, filmed in sepia - a silent film. You can see the mouths of people moving; but you cannot make out what they are saying. You can see what they are doing, but not what they are thinking. It is another country; as lost in time as Knossos or Camelot. Easy to get sentimental about, through the nostalgia has little depth to it – and is barely gin and tonic deep.
Here in the forest I often only just about know if it is Thursday or April. This once made me tingle with guilt – but no longer.
The weather gives me my first clue as to where I am in time; but after that there are few clues. Humid or cooler; dry or wet: this merely hints at the month; and with the amount of random weather chucked about through climate change, sometimes not even this.
This being an hotel, there are always the same number of staff on duty: chefs, butlers, gardeners, housekeepers. Who is around or not tells you nothing. It could be Wednesday or Sunday. Guests come and go; some idling with treasured delight around the pool, instagramming, reading on sun loungers or ordering deliciously late comfort lunches; others race off to climb the Sigiriya Rock and delve into the caves of Dambulla between sunrise and sunset.
The call to prayer sounds through the coconut palms as it does every day of the week – so that doesn’t help much either. Newspapers are non-existent. There is no radio, no television, no choir of chatty media hosts to inform you what day it is and what they think about what might have happened. Nothing. Zilch. Nichts. You are on you own here. You have to figure out what kind of day it is; and then decide, in the absence of any templates, how it is going to pan out.
And it is easy to get distracted, as I am today, witnessing, through the odd breathless online news report, of the implosion of Britain’s most loved Breakfast Sofa Show. The Breakfast Sofa Show is a amusing format whereby two people who pretend to be BFFs invite other Best Friends onto the show to sit on overstuffed sofas and discuss such things as sun cream, or political corruption. For years these presenters will be revered as National Treasures until, as surely as night follows day, it draws time for their public Excoriation. This is the part most loved by the media. It doesn’t come round that often, but when it does it must be savoured, dissected, drawn out in loving rants of outrage.
In today’s case, one of the two English presenters has been cunningly terminated by the other, but, in the ensuring revelations, his affair with an 18 year old young man then galvanized the show’s many detractors into demanding its immediate closure. As the devil has many faces, nothing short of the abolition of live TV would truly solve matters.
But the howling roll of comment, story, gossip, and press release from far off London, reminds me, here in my jungle lair, that I enjoy the sort of protection from nonsense that only Vestral Virgins, astronauts or abdicated kings could once expect. And for this, it is probably useful to have a slightly tenuous hold over what day of the week it is. It is, after all, what I do, not when I do it, that matters most.
True, I can sit in my office with a view to researching endemic owls of Sri Lanka – and even get some way into identifying what differentiates the Collared Scops Owl from the endemic Serendib Scops Owl, before there is a knock on my door and my attention is turned to the water supply that has been interrupted by wild boar digging out the pipes; the guest who missed their train to Ella; the new mango and pummelo chutney that will not set – or the Sri Lankan Tourist Board, who can minimise the achievement of life on Mars by the bureaucracy attendant on getting their latest certification.
Sundays or Wednesdays – they pass in the same way, random events breaching the best laid plans to keep me on my toes better than ever could a Sunday Roast or the distant strains of “Now Thank We All Our God”.