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enjoying the races and beginning working in Denmark

(Excerpted from Memories that Linger: My journey in the world of disability by Padmani Mendis)

My memories moved too fast through the last two years and now I must take them back so as not to leave Nalin behind. He arrived in London just over a month after I had. Before he came, I told Mrs. Mehta my landlady that he was on a course of study at Oxford but would come to London most weekends. I asked if he could stay with me on such occasions. Offered to pay of course.

She was happy to have Nalin stay with me and no, she would not take any extra money at all. She offered to put another bed for him in the room. I said no thank you, that would make the room too crowded. We would share one bed. Mrs. Mehta was happy with me. An added reason for this is that the cleaning lady had told her how easy it was to clean my room. I kept everything neat and tidy, she had told Mrs. Mehta. Moreover, I made sure to put a polythene bag in the waste paper basket each time before use so she could remove the bag and not have to touch the contents. I was surprised that she had said these things. Surely this is what any guest, paying or not, would do?

Mrs. Mehta was English and she was married to a Parsi gentleman from India. They had first met on board a ship. He was returning home after studying in the UK and she was visiting India to see its wonders. After marriage, they came to live in this same three-storied house they had purchased on Westbourne Drive, Forest Hill in south-east London. Two sons had been born here and had now left with wives to homes of their own. They were indeed a kind-hearted and unassuming couple.

Days at the Races

When Nalin did arrive he went to Oxford almost immediately. He had a room at Queen Elizabeth House or QEH. All meals provided, which is just as well because he could not even make himself a cup of tea. He still cannot. When I go out I always make sure the bottle of Nescafe is where it can be found easily. He can make himself a cup using the microwave oven.

We spent our weekends enjoying London. A little of cinema and theatre, but not much in the West End because Forest Hill was on the main line and trains stopped running relatively early at night. But one activity we revelled in was spending the day at the races. The highlight was Royal Ascot on a warm and sunny day. Seeing the Queen with her husband by her side. On the course and across the Grandstand in her horse and carriage so that all present could see her.

The Epsom Derby meet was special with the course being located on the Epsom Downs in Surrey. English courses are set in beautiful surroundings so the whole day could be made special, having picnic lunches and enjoying the scenery. Kempton Park and Sandown, both also in Surrey were other courses we enjoyed.

We always made a point of going to the Paddock before a race like regular punters would. We could see the horses with sweat on their bodies even before the start of the race, almost within touching range. We watched the jockeys and trainers talking with owners and planning strategies before each race. We watched them closely to see if we could lip read and perhaps catch a tip on a winner. The punter in me came out at these times and I too would place a bet. After all, I had racing blood in me from both parents.

Shaku and Andrew

One of my dearest friends in London to this day is Shaku – the Shaku from Uganda who was my flat mate at 16 Seymour Street near Marble Arch. She left our apartment to move into the North Middlesex Hospital to train as a nurse. When I went back to London and to Guys she was working as the Sister-In-Charge of the Medical Centre at the Mirror Group of Newspapers in Central London.

She was then engaged to be married to Andrew. They had been friends for a very long time and Nalin and I had both come to know him. We love him as much as we do Shaku. Their marriage took place at the Registry Office located in the Hammersmith Town Hall in the presence of family and a few close friends. We felt how close we were when Nalin and I were asked by Shaku and Andrew to be the witnesses to their marriage and attest to it in the marriage register.

We meet every time we are in London, and Shaku and Andrew once visited us in Sri Lanka. They were at the time, living in Egypt where Andrew was working as an engineer for Balfour Beatty. At the same time, he refurbished their house step by step. Planning changes together but doing the labour himself, they converted the old Georgian house they purchased in Chelsea into a modern and comfortable home still maintaining its original beauty.

Shaku had retired early to look after their two sons Nicky and Ollie. Both now married and with families of their own. When I met Shaku and Andrew on my last visit to London nearly six years ago, their activities were rather limited. Shaku with painful knees and Andrew with painful hips. Over the past few years, Andrew has had both hips replaced and Shaku has had both knees replaced. They are completely free of pain and are as mobile as they were when they were young.

When we talked on WhatsApp last week, she told me the week previous they had driven to see Coventry Cathedral. I told her of how I had seen the new cathedral soon after it was dedicated in 1962. The old cathedral was almost totally destroyed by bombs dropped during the Second World War in 1940. The small section that still stood after the bombing, was retained as a remembrance of the futility of war. A beautiful new cathedral was built next to that making both together look like one. We talked about the charred remains of the cross in the old and the modernist design of the new. Shaku sent me photographs they had taken.

Stopover in Denmark on my way home

Having completed my studies in London, Nalin and I had to think once again about our future in Sri Lanka. My professional future was assured as a tutor in physiotherapy. What about our financial situation? We had sold our belongings including our car to purchase my ticket. All these had now to be replaced, but what with?

We decided that the solution lay in my working in Europe for six months so I could save enough to set up home once again in Colombo. We decided that Denmark would be a good choice. We understood that English was spoken more here than in other Scandinavian countries and Danish physios were among the most highly paid in Europe.

I picked up a professional journal, looked up the job ads, selected three hospitals in Denmark at random and sent them my job applications. Once again, the first reply was a positive one and this I accepted. But guess what? As I looked through to the end of the letter and saw who had signed it, I could not believe my eyes. It was signed by “Henry Jayatissa”, Superintendent Physiotherapist and Head of Department, Holstebro Sygehuset (meaning Hospital).

We found out later that Sri Lankan Henry had the highest number of physios employed in his department and this made it the largest physio department in Denmark. He was therefore the highest paid physio in Denmark at the time.

Nalin meanwhile, at the end of his year at Oxford had to go back to Colombo and to his job. Fortunately though, the following year he was entitled to long leave of four months then allowed to government officers every four years. He came back to London to stay with me in Forest Hill. We took off for Holstebro together in July. Again the travel bug had bitten us, and we went to Denmark only after first seeing what we could of Norway and Sweden. We bought tickets on Eurail. This enabled us to do a circuit through the two countries and get off the train whenever we wished to, for however long we wished to stay.

We travelled by ferry from Felixstowe in England to Gothenburg on the west coast of Sweden. We crossed over to Norway to its capital city Oslo with a bank at every street corner. From here up to Trondheim famous for its long fjord and trout fishing, and where we could partake of its delicious Norwegian smorgasbord.

We crossed back over to picturesque Ostersund in Sweden; came down to the amazing capital city Stockholm made up of many, thousands of islands; back to Gothenborg, this time visiting the famous Liseberg Amusement Park and then again by ferry to the very old Danish Viking city of Aarhus. Then by train to our final destination Holstebro.

Holstebro

Henry was of course at the station to welcome us as a Sri Lankan would. Knowing the purpose of my coming to Denmark he had found me accommodation provided by the hospital for its staff at a relatively low cost. He took us there and settled us in. It was a one-bedroom apartment, furnished with all requirements, even linen. The next day I was at the Physiotherapy Department bright and early and ready to be introduced to my colleagues. All communicated with me in English, only a few had any little difficulty.

Henry, who allocated patients to his staff made sure to send me those that could communicate in English. But I started learning the Danish language as soon as I could. Evening classes were provided by the municipality. In three months I knew enough to have simple conversations in Danish. The little Swedish I had learned in London so many years ago came in useful. There are similarities in the two languages. My colleagues and patients were very helpful, encouraging me to converse in their language.

One of the patients that Henry referred to me was Mr. Muller, the manager of a bank in Holstebro. When I first assessed him he told me that he had cervical spondylosis. A couple of times a year the pain in his neck became intolerable. At these times he came to see Henry in the hospital. Physiotherapy relieved his pain until the next bout a few months later. He was now in severe pain.

I assessed his neck carefully and felt that the Maitland’s mobilisations I had learned from Bob will very likely provide a solution to Mr. Muller’s recurring pain.

I explained this to Mr. Muller. I told him that there was an equal chance that these techniques may have no effect whatsoever. Mr. Muller, desperate in his pain, was willing to try anything. He asked me to carry out the techniques I knew. I was more surprised than Mr. Muller at how effective the mobilisations were. He walked out of the department quite free of pain. He came back a few more times for follow-up with heat and exercises and remained pain free. We were in touch for a few years after I left Denmark. He had never returned for physiotherapy.

Holstebro was a very small city with a very large hospital that served the region. Holstebro had one cinema and a main street on which all the shops were situated. It was, as main streets usually are in Scandinavia, a pedestrian street. Nalin referred to Holstebro fondly as a one-horse town.

Henry and Nalin soon became friends. Henry introduced us to the second Sri Lankan in Holstebro called Dinky. Just as Henry had a Danish wife named Else, Dinky had one called Birthe. Both couples were extremely hospitable, were good friends and made sure our stay in Denmark was a memorable one.

Henry

Nalin was in Holstebro for just over three weeks. During this time, Henry took the two of us driving in his Swedish Volvo every Saturday to see the Denmark that he was so proud to be part of. He made our day out a picnic.

Henry was tall and dark, used precise speech and had a resounding voice; he walked purposefully with long strides. Henry was meticulous in everything that he did. He had Else prepare a picnic lunch for each of us. Else was a teacher of domestic science and a top cook. She could make the most delicious and innovative Danish open sandwiches which were just a dream. She packed three picnic boxes with these and some fruit and all the required accessories. Henry packed a cool box with a range of drinks.

When it was time for lunch he stopped at a scenic spot, having the knack of finding with ease the most beautiful tree that was to be seen to sit under. He opened the boot of the car to take out of it a light wooden box. From the box he would take out a picnic table fitted with three chairs. He then unfolded the table and chairs ceremoniously, placing them at just the right spot to afford the best view; he laid the table out for lunch and lay on that the disposable crockery needed at equally spaced place settings, clearly enjoying every moment of it.

Looking back, I think perhaps the only thing missing on that table was a vase of flowers. When we had finished he would follow the reverse process, step by step until we were ready to leave. And we, we had to be onlookers as he carried out his role as host.

Short though the time was, Nalin and Henry became good friends, as did Nalin and Dinky. Birthe and Dinky had us spend Sundays with them and their two young sons so our weekends were occupied.Henry had many friends in Sri Lanka dating back to before he married and left for Denmark. After he got to know us he visited Sri Lanka regularly.

These visits were planned well beforehand with at least one day being allocated to be spent with each family member and friend. We were informed long before he arrived when exactly and how he expected his friends and family to host him. With us, one year it was a day out seeing the elephants at Pinnawala. Another was to visit his friends at Attapattu Walauwa in Galle. Yet another was a few days at Yala with the wild life. Some years it was a meal with menu specified, at home or may be at a named restaurant, all decided by Henry.

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