The man who snaps aeroplanes - Smiling Sri Lanka - CycleBlaze

February 18, 2020

The man who snaps aeroplanes

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TRINCOMALEE - We're not far from where we started - a shade more than 20km in fact - but it was all the Lovely Mrs Woodland thought I should ride. I'd taken such a hammering that we had an extra day in our beachside extravaganza so that I could recover.

I didn't protest. I'm not 17 any more. I have nothing to prove. If I'm not a hero, nobody will notice, still less care.

We ambled along an increasingly busy road to the head town of the district. We stopped at a roadside café for the best wayside meal so far, and then we pottered to a collection of rooms called the Dutch Bay Beach Bungalows.

I mention them for two reasons. The first is that they are a little paradise beside a bay in which the fortunate spot whales. And the second is to urge you not to be put off by first appearances if you follow us there. The opinion you'll get when you see the access from the street has no connection to what lies beyond.

Dutch Bay at Trincomalee - or just Trinco for the locals
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George ChristensenLéo: You may have slowed down on the bike, but not at the keyboard. Glad you’re still touring and writing. Always look forward to the next.
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A huge round sun is dropping lazily to earth behind me and, because all cats are black by night, the sea is turning from turquoise to grey. Lights are coming on around the coast and on the small fishing boats moored between us and the horizon.

Trincomalee - or just Trinco to most people - is a bustling place which has changed hands eight times. The Sri Lankans had it, of course, and then the Portuguese took it. With Christian love of their fellow men, they set about destroying the temple on the cliff. They knocked much of it down and flung it into the sea. The locals, seeing the way things were going, set about burying what the Portuguese hadn't yet ruined in expectation that one day they would go away.

They did, but only for everyone else to line up for their own turn. The Dutch, the British, then the Sri Lankans again. Even the Japanese bombed the place, deciding against invading only after much of the population had fled.

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The curious thing about this Hindu temple is that its dominant feature is what to me appears to be a huge, seated and fat, round Buddha. Yet the tone of the place is too garish to be anything but Hindu. So maybe he's a Hindu god that I can't recognise. There are small pictures of Ganesh, whose mother showed her religious fervour by giving her son the head of the first animal to pass. It turned out to be an elephant.

No sign of Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, though, or Hunaman, the monkey king, or the evil Kali with her hair of human skulls.

We walked round with respect. The faithful were laying flowers. A drummer beat out a pattern with his hands to accompany a cross-legged man playing a long wind instrument that I couldn't identify.

I wish I understood more about Hinduism. I used to have Hindu friends and they tried to explain, but they rarely agreed with each other. The basic points were there, that lesser gods paved the way to a supreme being, just as saints do in other religions. But, lively though the stories of the Ramayana may be, they have the same lack of credibility that the flooding of the world and the rising from the grave that other religions have. You have to commit yourself to the tenets and stories, which means accepting them without proof, and it's that that I find impossible.

The deer around Trinco were close to tame
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We walked back down from the temple along a narrow street of fruit-juice and trinket sellers. We got talking to a man in his mid-30s who spoke English not only with little of the sub-continental accent but a hint of Welsh.

"My job is to make sure that wings don't fall off aeroplanes," he explained as we sat with his parents at one of the fruit-juice stalls. "I work for Airbus, in Wales. Other companies as well but especially Airbus."

And that's where the slight Welsh accent came from.

He could do that in Wales as a Sri Lankan, he said, but he couldn't stop the wings falling of Boeings. "The Americans insist you're American to do that."

He had no inclination to work in America and he was even concerned about staying in Wales. Much of the momentum behind Brexit wasn't about leaving the European Union: it was about stopping immigration.

"Maybe Boris [the prime minister] will sort it out," our man said, as much in hope as expectation. "Or maybe our operation will move to Airbus in Toulouse, which I wouldn't mind because winter in Wales is so cold and dark."

"Or they may move you to Hamburg," Steph suggested with a smile.

"Hmm, yes... just as cold and dark as Wales, I think."

He said he'd always wanted to work with aircraft. He went to Kingston university in west London and then to the aeronautics centre at Cranfield, in the southern English midlands. And now, he said, his job was - put simply - to bounce wings up and down until they snap.

"If they're going to crack, I have to find out why."

I told him that a boyhood neighbour had worked on the original Comet, the first jetliner. All had gone well until they began falling to bits. They'd snapped around the square windows, an event which explains why every plane you've flown in since has had oval windows.

"We learned a lot from that," he said, using "we" in a general sense because it happened long before he was born. "Every crash brings an improvement and it's just not possible now that something could drop off and produce a crash."

We were reassured. It wouldn't be so long before we flew back to France, after all. But a nagging voice reminded me that the designers of the Titanic had said much the same thing.

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