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Policeman cracks joke at Soulbury’s expense over game billiards

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(Excerpted from Senior DIG (Rtd.) Edward Gunawardena’s memoirs)

Colombo Division was hectic, but it was good fun. All Three of us new ASPs, Brute Mahendran, Cosmo David and I were resident at the Officer’s Mess, Brownrigg Road. Today it is the Senior Officer’s Mess, Keppetipola Mawatha This is because during the JVP insurrection of 1971 the Inspectorate of the Police were equated to officer ranks of the armed services; and the Inspectors’ Mess became the Officers’ Mess. The Sergeants and Constables were also designated as Junior Officers and a Mess was established for them on Chaitya Road, Fort.

The Mess was housed in a substantial two storey building. It was in fact one complete unit of a C’ type twin bungalow. The ground floor consisted of two verandahs in the front and the rear, the ante room with a billiard table, a large dining room with a table for about twenty, the kitchen and pantry, outhouses for servants, a large garage and a stable for one horse.

The walls of the ante-room were studded with hunting trophies – heads of wild buffaloes, trunks of elephants, antlers of deer etc. Photographs of past Inspectors – General and group farewells to retiring Senior officers adorned the walls of the dining room. In a large antique glass almirah were silver trophies and other valuable silverware.

The heart of this entire set up was indeed the bar that was housed in a small room adjoining the dining room. A remarkable feature was that this bar was always well stocked with the best liquors and well patronized by the members. Other than on special occasions outsiders were seldom seen there. The main reason why it was well patronized was because all senior officers were encouraged to drink at the mess and not in other public places. There were no cash sales with transactions being strictly on credit.

The Mess Rules had to be strictly observed by all members. If the necessity arose the senior most officer present had the power to enforce discipline. Jamis, the Butler, also enjoyed certain powers even to the extent of cautioning errant officers and reporting them under the Mess Rules. A committee of officers was responsible for the day to day running of the mess, with the Hony. Secretary bearing most of the burden. In later years, at different times I held the offices of Hony. Secretary and President of the Mess.

Unlike today the Mess servants were paid on the profits made by the bar; and there were only three of them including the Butler. Nimalasena assisted Jamis whilst there was just one cook. Today an ASP has taken the place of the Butler while there are several sergeants and constables as bar tenders and kitchen staff. To cater to the needs of the times an eatery also functions within the Mess premises called Bobby’s restaurant. This modest food outlet has proved to be a boon to many officers.

Of a total of six rooms for residents one room was always kept vacant for officers from the outstations who visited the city for official purposes. Apart from the three of us, there was only one other resident member in 1958. He was a bachelor ASP who had come up from the rank of Sub-Inspector. An old Trinitian, T.B. Dhanapala was a fingerprint expert. His younger brothers were Ian who was with me at Marrs Hall in Peradeniya and Jayantha, an illustrious foreign service officer who brought honour to the country.

A visitor who came regularly to see TBD. was a Trinity friend of his, Col. John Halangoda. They were both excellent conversationalists. Whenever possible, it was with pleasure that I joined them in a chat. Sometimes we would talk for hours on Kandyan history, customs, the aristocracy, families and even the manner of cooking and special foods, sipping just one bottle of Beck’s beer!

Dhanapala was a man of erudition and culture. He epitomized the quality of men who joined the police as Sub-Inspectors at that time. Simple in his habits he was scrupulously honest. Once he confided in me how a multi-millionaire businessman who had even been officially honoured by the government had approached him when he was the Registrar of Finger Prints (RFP) to get his past criminal record destroyed. He had taken special precautions for the safety of these documents. It is ironical indeed that this man with a criminal record for stealing a brass garden tap as a collector for an old metal dealer reached the top of the business world. Dhanapala merely faded away. But he will be remembered as a man of honour.

Apart from being the focal point for official functions and social get-togethers, the Mess was the common meeting place for officers. With the Police grounds and the tennis courts situated in close proximity, this was the place where one could bathe, have a change of clothes etc. It was particularly well patronized during week-ends. It was common to see several officers and their guests play bridge and billiards or snooker.

Officers who regularly played bridge were C.C. Dissanayake, Bede Johnpulle, Jebanesan and Lionel Jirasinghe. R.E. Kitto who had been All-India and National sprint champion spent hours at the billiard table. The officers I remember who played with him were R.A. Stork and Royden Vanderwall.

Lord Soulbury the first Governor General had been an occasional visitor to the Mess as the guest of the Inspector-General. As related by Jamis the butler, the Governor-General had also been a keen billiards player. He had been quite proficient too; and like most others he had enjoyed a drink whilst playing. His preferred drink had been Gordon’s gin and tonic with a dash of bitters.

Soulbury’s usual opponent in billiards had been the young and brash Robert Ebenezer (RE) Kitto. The latter was such a free conversationalist, unafraid to use English slang, even the Queen’s representative had begun to enjoy his lively company. A story that went the rounds about Soulbury and Kitto is worth being repeated over and over again.

Playing a game, the former standing on his left leg had stretched his right leg on the green baize and prepared himself to play an intricate shot. Kitto who had downed several arracks had loudly remarked, ” Excuse me, Your Excellency, only three balls on the table”! Soulbury according to Jamis had laughed heartily and shaken hands with Kitto.

Those who did not play bridge or billiards also enjoyed themselves engaged in light conversation, relating jokes and often laughing loudly. The voice of Allen Flamer Caldera was loud and distinct. Frederick de Saram was a real live wire. He was for some reason or another also called. Kukul Saram. It was his daughter, Sirimanie, who married Lalith Athulathmudali.

In fact Kukul usually came with his wife and two daughters. Mrs. de Saram, I remember, was coaxed to play the piano for the husband to lead the singing. He had a baritone voice and his favourite songs were, “I’ve got a loverly bunch of coconuts”, and “Arapiya Lucia dora”. Allen Flamer Caldera’s daughter Jilska who was one of the finest women athletes of the time, also played the piano once in a while for her father and his friends to unwind. Jilska as I remember was a pleasant and beautiful girl.

 

Celebrating Christmas

 

There were two special days at the Mess during the Christmas Season. One was the day on which the carols were held on the Police grounds and the other was the Children’s Christmas party.

 

The Christmas Carols organized by DIG C.C. Dissanayake was an admirable event. The Police Band provided the music and representatives of all ranks including the women police dressed in uniform formed the choir. A remarkable feature was that the personnel of the band as well as the choristers were all not Christians. They belonged to all faiths and sang loudly and lustily.

Even at casual get-togethers Brute Mahendran, a Hindu, sang Christian ditties such as “Swing low sweet chariot” and “Steal Away” with a lot of feeling. The spirit of Christmas entered the lives of all at that time. Even after colonial values had rightfully faded away, it is a matter for satisfaction indeed to see that carols have today become a national cultural feature in the form of ‘Wesak Bakthi Gee’. There was a time when people spoke of Wesak Carols!

The singing of carols did not end on the Police Grounds. It was customary for the senior officers to walk across the grounds to the Mess. Wives and children also joined. And the carols continued with everybody around the piano. Of course, it did not take long for the carols to be replaced by the usual party songs. Fred de Saram, Allen Flamer Caldera, Leslie Abeysekera, Cossy Orr and Stanley Senanayake eventually led the singing to the immortal melodies of Sunil Santha & P.L.A. Somapala. Before breaking up for the evening everybody including the wives and children joined in the Baila singing and dancing.

 

The Childress’ Party.

 

The childrens’ Christmas party was the most important event in the annual year-end celebrations. It was a social event looked forward to by the families of all members. For the children of all ages up to 12-years, the event from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. was three hours of screaming fun. The massive Christmas tree was an exceptionally large branch of pine brought from Nuwara Eliya. Decorated to especially suit the taste of children, attractive toys dangled from all parts of the tree. Different groups of officers and their wives organized games for the children. Numerous varieties of short eats, sweets and ice-cream all supplied by Elephant House were freely available.

The highlight of the childrens’ party was the arrival of Santa Claus sharp at 5 p.m. In fact it was his arrival that signaled the commencement of the proceedings. A remarkable feature of this party was that members and families irrespective of religion joined in the fun. Apart from Buddhists, Musafers, Bongsos and Mahendrans have also played the role of Santa Claus. Shelly Salvador was an officer who reveled playing this role over and over again.

It was the manner of arrival of Santa Claus that provided the kiddies party with the desired kick-start. Minutes before five the sound of jingle bells was heard in the distance. Children and adults awaited his arrival anxiously. Amidst the sound of crackers and the release of hundreds of balloons Santa emerged in his traditional dress.

 

The sensation was in Santa’s mode of transport. In my early years in the Police I have seen Santa arrive in decorated Jeeps, in a buggy cart, on horseback, on a bicycle , on a motorcycle with a side-car etc. I too was Santa once in the early sixties. My senior at St. Joseph’s Hubert Bagot who was the head of the Police Mounted Division had improvised for me a horse drawn chariot out of a bullock cart!

 

The annual officers sit-down dinner

 

This annual dinner which is also called the “First Aid Dinner” is the most important official social meeting for the gazetted officers in the calendar of events of the Senior Officers Mess. This dinner follows the commemoration parade of the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade which in Sri Lanka is made up almost entirely of the police. During my resident days at the Mess, the commandant of the St. John’s Ambulance brigade was Col. Dr. Rockwood. With the Queen as the patron, this was undoubtedly a prestigious honorary post.

 

In the fifties and sixties it was compulsory for all officers to attend this dinner. Mess dress had to be worn. This dress consisted of black vicuna trousers with overlaid black silk braids, white dress shirt and black bow, white waist-coat and a mini dress jacket. Black shoes, small black epaulets and miniature silver insignia and buttons completed the outfit.

 

All officers had to be present by 7.30 in the evening. Never have I seen late comers. The special guests, the Governor-General and the Prime Minister arrived by 7.40 p.m. piloted by police vehicles. The IGP and the DIGs who also arrived by 7.30 p.m. received the special guests. By the time they arrived all the officers had studied the table plan that was exhibited on the billiard table. At 8 O’Clock sharp the police band under the baton of Inspector Gerry Paul played “Roast Beef of Old England.” This was the dinner call.

 

The special guests who also included Col. Dr. Rockwood were all escorted to their respective seats by the IGP and the DIGs. All other officers occupied their seats in an orderly fashion. The dining table was long and extended beyond the rear doorway. A raised platform accommodated the rear end of the table. The table — cloth was of immaculate white and the cutlery, crockery, glasses and serviettes meticulously arranged.

 

Although the catering manager of Elephant House was present it was Jamis the butler with all his experience who with authority supervised the table arrangements. It was also under the supervision of Jamis that the Elephant House waiters filled the wine and water glasses. As for the IGP and the special guests, Jamis was in personal attendance.

 

The menu at this special dinner was perhaps the best that Elephant House could offer; and Elephant House was at that time the sole importer of meats, fruits and vegetables. The meats arrived as whole carcasses to be stored in the large cold rooms. I remember being introduced by my father, who was Assistant Manager at Fountain Cafe, to one Mr. Young an Englishman who was the butcher. His job was to carve the carcasses of cattle and sheep to parts. Elephant House also imported the choicest of hams, bacon, butter and cheese.

 

The menu in 1958, for example, served by Jamis and his liveried assistants, started with a shrimp cocktail followed by steaming Consomme Royale, the soup. The main courses that followed consisted of braised turkey and ham in cadjunut and early pea sauce; and baked seer in mayonnaise with lobster thermidor A desert of Knickerbocker Glory and cheese was followed by strong black coffee. Jamis was constantly on the move topping up the glasses with cognac, cherry brandy and creme de menthe.

 

The gavel that had been placed on the table in front of the IGP was indeed a rare piece of furniture. It was an exquisitely turned out wooden hammer. Sharp at 9.30 the IGP tapped the table thrice with this gavel and got up with a glass of cognac in his hand. The others too got up simultaneously with glasses in their hands for the evening’s first toast, ‘to the health and happiness of the Queen’.

 

This was followed with a toast to Ceylon. After these toasts, in an informal tone, the IGP announced, ‘Gentlemen you may smoke’. Many pulled out their own packs or cigarette cases while even the usual non-smokers too helped themselves from the silver cigarette boxes that were being taken round Once the IGP and the guests got up and moved to the ante room other officers too gradually followed.

 

The proceedings thereafter were informal with the Governor-General and Prime Minister chatting freely even with junior officers. The Probationary ASPS invariably had a special place. It was a part of their induction into the Senior Officer culture of the Ceylon Police with colonial values.

 

I wonder today whether this special mess function continues to exist. During the late seventies and eighties when I was in service I cannot recall attending a ‘First Aid Dinner’ Perhaps with the extraordinary police commitments during the years of the terrorist war this traditional event had to be done away with. Even if it has ceased to exist it is certainly not a matter for regret. Being an extravagant British Colonial legacy, wholly incompatible with the times, the demise of the ‘Police First Aid Dinner’ had to come sooner or later.



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Features

Credibility in governance through elections and not security forces

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Ranil Wickremesinghe

By Jehan Perera

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that he is prepared to declare a state of national emergency and use the military to suppress any public protests for change of government would reflect the pressures he is under. The manner in which he has used the security forces to deal with the protest movement has been unexpected. His words and deeds are contradictory to what he has previously stood for as a five-time former prime minister. This is especially true in the case of the ethnic and religious minorities who have consistently voted for him and his party at elections. They have felt safer and more secure under his governments which always sought to reduce the heavy hand of state oppression in which national security is given pride of place. He has always promised them much though he has been unable to deliver on much of what he promised.

Notwithstanding the unfortunate rhetoric and actions of the present time the belief still persists that President Wickremesinghe is the best of the available options. Recent pronouncements of the president have reignited hope that he will address the problems of the religious and ethnic minorities. He has stated that he does not want to leave this problem to the next generation. He has said that he wants to resolve this intractable national problem by the country’s 75th independence anniversary on February 4 next year. The hope that the president will make a fresh effort to resolve their problems has led the main Tamil party, the TNA, to desist from voting against the budget which passed with a relatively small majority. Their spokesperson, M A Sumanthiran said in Parliament that due to the president reaching out to them, stretching out his hand, they did not vote against the budget although they disagreed with it.

It is not only in words that the president has reached out to the ethnic and religious minorities. Reports from the north and east indicate that the Maveer (Heroes) Day commemorations this year took place without incident. During the past two years scores of people were arrested and a massive presence of security forces blocked the people from participating in public events. On this occasion the security forces did not get involved in any attempt to stop the commemorations. University students distributed sweets and even cut a birthday cake to celebrate slain LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s birthday. The analogy that the president drew to himself being seen as a Hitler who exterminated ethnic and religious minorities is misplaced. The release of those held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for engaging in similar acts in the past would further contribute to the reconciliation process.

WORSENING CRISIS

In this context, the president’s use of militaristic rhetoric can only be understood in relation to the growing economic crisis that shows no sign of abating. The anticipated IMF bailout package is at risk of getting indefinitely delayed. It was initially anticipated to come in September then in November but now January is being targeted. Japan’s top brokerage and investment bank, Nomura Holdings Inc, has warned that seven countries – Egypt, Romania, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Czech Republic, Pakistan and Hungary – are now at a high risk of currency crises. Sri Lanka is in third place on the table of risk. The next devaluation of the rupee could see another spike in inflation that will make the cost of living even more unbearable to the masses of people.

The president is on record as having said that the economic crisis will get worse before it improves. Both anecdotal and statistical evidence indicates that it is indeed worsening. University teachers at the University of Sabaragamuwa reported that attendance in their classes was down by at least a quarter. Students who come from other parts of the country are unable to afford the cost of meals and so they stay at home. A study by the Institute of Policy Studies has shown that about four percent of primary, 20 percent of secondary and 26 percent of collegiate students had dropped out of school in the estate sector, which is the worst affected. The future costs to the country of a less well educated population is incalculable and inhumane.

As it is the situation is a dire one for large swathes of the population. Research from the University of Peradeniya has revealed that close to half of Sri Lanka’s population, 42 percent (up from 14 percent in 2019) are living under the poverty line. Professor of Economics Wasantha Athukorala has said there is a dramatic increase in the poverty level of over three-hold across the past three years. In 2019, nearly 3 million people lived below the poverty line, but that number has increased to 9.6 million in October 2022. In these adverse circumstances stability in a polity can be ensured either through legitimacy or through force. It would be tragic if the latter is the choice that is made.

ELECTORAL SOLUTION

President Wickremesinghe has been stressing the importance of political stability to achieve economic development. His recent statement that the security forces will be used to negate any unauthorised protest is a sign that the government expects the conditions of economic hardship to escalate. The general public who are experiencing extreme economic hardship are appalled at the manner in which those who committed acts of corruption and violence in the past are being overlooked because they belong to the ruling party and its cliques. The IMF has made anti-corruption a prerequisite to qualify for a bailout, calling for “Reducing corruption vulnerabilities through improving fiscal transparency and public financial management, introducing a stronger anti-corruption legal framework, and conducting an in-depth governance diagnostic, supported by IMF technical assistance.”

It is morally unacceptable even if politically pragmatic that the president is failing to take action against the wrongdoers because he needs their votes in parliament. As a start, the president needs to appoint a credible and independent national procurement committee to ensure that major economic contracts are undertaken without corruption. Second, the president needs to bite the bullet on elections. The country’s burning issues would be better accepted by the country and world at large if they are being dealt with by a statesman than by a dictator. Government that is based on the people’s consent constitutes the sum and substance of democracy. This consent is manifested through free and fair elections that are regularly held. Local government elections have been postponed for a year and are reaching their legal maximum in terms of postponement. These elections need to be held before March next year.

Elections will enable the people to express their views in a democratic manner to elect their representatives for the present. This would provide the government with guidance in terms of the decisions it is being called to take to revive the economy and place the burden in a manner that will be acceptable to the people. The provincial council elections have been postponed since 2018. Democratically elected provincial councils share in the burdens of governance. The devolution of power that took place under the 13th Amendment was meant to promote ethnic harmony in the country. The president who has taken the position that he is for a solution to the ethnic conflict should seriously consider conducting the provincial council elections together with the local government elections se their financial costs. By doing so he will also gain legitimacy as a democratic statesman and not a dictator.

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WEDNESDAY – Movie Review

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The Addams Family is back with a new tale to tell! Originally created by Charles Addams as a comic strip published in The New Yorker, it offered readers a sarcastic take on the ‘typical nuclear family’ by substituting it with a more macabre bunch of strange and eerie individuals. Since then the titular family has been adapted on to the big screen many times, from live action movies to animated versions, the Addams Family has gained many fans throughout the years. Created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, with Tim Burton working on four episodes of the eight-part series, Wednesday is a welcoming tale for young fans, but unfortunately fails to think outside the box and remains anchored to the floor with a messy storyline.

Dead-eyed Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega) is a stubborn, independent and intelligent teenager in this new series. Her penchant for attracting trouble wherever she goes alarms her parents, Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Gomez (Luis Guzmán). With an already strained relationship with her parents (specifically her mother), Wednesday is enrolled at Nevermore, an academy for outcasts like herself. Having attended the academy themselves, Morticia and Gomez are hopeful that their daughter will ‘fit right in’. Caught between trying to build her own identity and other teenage complexities, Wednesday soon finds herself in the middle of a twisted mystery.

This is the first time audiences are introduced to a teenage Wednesday, which allowed the creators to build a new world on their own terms, but while keeping true to the original nature of the character. The creators do a fair amount of world building by introducing other outcasts like the Fangs (vampires), Stoners (Gorgons), Scales (sirens) and Furs (werewolves), among others. Nevermore Academy itself is beautiful and comes with the classic package of creepy crypts, hidden rooms and secret societies. The series also offers a decent amount of gore, although they could have added more given Wednesday’s proclivity for gore-related activities. The series deals with classic young-adult tropes which includes teenage crushes, bullies, relationships and even prom, among other things. The series navigates through Wednesday’s journey of self-discovery, which is a new avenue for both the character and the fans. From understanding and displaying her emotions to discovering her identity and understanding her peers, the series takes a deep dive into heavy material.

Ortega’s performance as the titular character plays a major role in keeping audiences glued to the screen. This is also the first time viewers are shown a teenage Wednesday Addams, which works to Ortega’s benefit as she depicts more dimensions to the ghoulish, morose character many are associated with based on previous renditions. Her facial expressions and ability to deliver on seriously emotional moments strengthens her role as the lead. The rest of the Addams Family, even with limited screen time, lack the eccentricities their characters should have. Hopeless romantics Morticia and Gomez seem incompatible in this version and Uncle Fester is far less crazy than he ought to be. The only member worth mentioning is the Thing—a severed hand— who brought more character and spirit to the series acting alongside Ortega. With barely any room to develop a majority of the characters are prosaic and tedious, even though they remain vital to the plot.

Apart from Ortega, Gwendoline Christie and Emma Myers deserve honorable mentions for their roles as Nevermore’s head teacher, Larissa Weems and the peppy Enid Sinclair respectively. Enid quickly became a fan favorite as the character was the polar opposite to Wednesday. Her character is vital to Wednesday’s character development and their journey to find common ground as mismatched individuals is amusing.

Christina Ricci who played Wednesday in the 90s returns as ‘normie’ teacher, Miss Thornhill and unfortunately barely stands out and this in large part due to the messy storyline. The series is bogged down with numerous subplots and overlapping tropes and the characters with potential for growth are completely overlooked. With love triangles, bullies and killer monsters on the loose, the series self-destructs and the climax sinks into disappointment.

At the end of the day, Wednesday plays to the beat of the new generation and touches on new themes, which is welcoming seeing as the character should grow up at some point. While not everyone may relate to Wednesday’s teenage perils, it is interesting to witness her growth and her journey as an ‘outcast’ or ‘weirdo’. And while Wednesday doesn’t exactly offer a distinctly unique story, it gives audiences a small taste of what Jenna Ortega’s Wednesday is capable of. Creating a story around a well-established franchise is a difficult task, and in this case the creators fail to add value to their visions. If the series continues, the creators will have the opportunity to think further outside the box and push the limits to Wednesday’s character and give audiences a bone-chilling experience. Wednesday is currently streaming on Netflix.

 

 

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Stage set for… AWESOME FRIDAY

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The past few weeks have been a very busy period for the new-look Mirage outfit…preparing themselves for their big night – Friday, December 2nd – when they would perform, on stage, for the very first time, as Donald Pieries (leader/vocals/drums), Benjy (bass), Niro Wattaladeniya (guitar), Viraj Cooray (guitar/vocals), Asangi Wickramasinghe (keyboard/vocals), along with their two frontline female vocalist, Sharon (Lulu) and Christine.

They have thoroughly immersed themselves in their practice sessions as they are very keen to surprise their fans, music lovers, and well-wishers, on opening night…at the Peacock, Berjaya Hotel, in Mount Lavinia.

Action starts at 8.00 pm and, thereafter, it will be five hours of great music, along with EFFEX DJs Widhara and Damien, interspersed with fun and excitement…for the whole family!

Yes, opening night is for the whole family, so you don’t need to keep some of your family members at home – kids, especially.

Working on their repertoire for Friday, bassist Benjy says “what we will dish out will be extra special, with lots of action on stage.”

It would be interesting to see Sharon (Lulu) doing her thing with Mirage, after her early days with the Gypsies, and, I’m told, a dynamic performance from Sharon is what is in store for all those who make it to the Peacock this Friday

Edward (Eddy) Joseph (centre) with Donald and Benjy

While the band was at one of their practice sessions, last week, they had a surprise visitor – Edward (Eddy) Joseph, a former member of the group Steelers, who is now based in Germany.

Eddy is here on a short visit and is scheduled to return to Germany, tomorrow (30).

He spent an hour with Mirage, at their practice session, and says he is disappointed that he would not be around for the group’s opening night.

However, there is a possibility of several well-known personalities, in the showbiz scene, turning up, on Friday night, to experience the sounds of the new-look Mirage, including Sohan Weerasinghe and Joey Lewis (from London).

Rajiv Sebastian, too, says he is keen to be a part of the fun-filled evening.

You could contact Benjy, on 0777356356, if you need to double check…their plans for AWESOME FRIDAY!

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